Bread or Marathons? To run or not run the NYC Marathon

posted by The Rabbit Hole
Saturday, November 3, 2012 at 9:13am EDT

Blogger Courtney Szto is a Master's Student studying the socio-cultural aspects of sport, physical activity and health (or as some call it Physical Cultural Studies). Bachelor's in Sport Management. Former tennis coach & ropes course facilitator.

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Photo from nydailynews.Hurricane Sandy has left its wake of destruction.  With many New Yorkers still without power and water Mayor Bloomberg has decided to proceed with this weekend's marathon; a decision that has divided the city as strongly as the storm did.  Staten Island was one of the areas hardest hit by Sandy and it is also the scheduled location for the start line.  A first time marathoner expressed her discomfort saying "At the very least I think the starting line should be moved from Staten Island to Brooklyn.  Staten Island arguably has been hit the hardest of the boroughs...It doesn't feel right to line up yards away from that devastation."  Staten Island residents are particularly upset with the fact that the race will continue when first responders and services are still unable to reach many residents  Those who believe the marathon should be cancelled or postponed are understandably upset at the idea that resources such as electricity, police, and money will be spent on the marathon instead of trying to help those affected by the storm.

The New York Times reports:

"This will forever tarnish the marathon as a brand and an event," said Stephen Robert Morse, a 27-year-old from Brooklyn who started stopthemarathon.tumblr.com.  "There are still thousands of people downtown and businesses that still lack necessitites and it's insulting to have tourists prioritized over the people of this city."

The counter argument being

Bloomberg, aware that the marathon generates hundreds of millions of dollars for the city, has repeatedly said the race will go on.  He did not expect the Police Department to be overly burdened because the race is on a Sunday, when street traffic is limited.  Many parts of the city, including Lower Manhattan, are expected to have their power back, freeing other workers.

Just because they are "free" after working around the clock for the past few days does not mean that we should find more work for them to do on the weekend. Perhaps Bloomberg didn't actually discuss this issue with NYPD because according to Roy Richter, president of the New York Police Department Captains Endowment Association,

in a normal year, maintaining order at the marathon "is a tremendous tax on the resources of the Police Department"  The police presence at this year's race will be smaller than in the past "because of the severe strain on the department right now."

There are two fundamental arguments for continuing with the marathon.
1.) It will provide a much needed economic boost to the city.
2.) It is a sign of strength and survival.

Staten Island after Sandy.  Photo from NBC News.Sporting events have long been argued to be drivers of economic growth.  Whether we are talking the Olympics, a new sports franchise/stadium, or a one off annual event the first answer to the question WHY will almost always be $$$$. Also, Bloomberg has been adamant that no resources, financial or otherwise, will be diverted from rescue efforts.  That alone is a big fat lie.  It's also the lie that officials tell us when the Olympics rolls into town.  The argument is that this sum of money that has appeared out of nowhere is earmarked only for sporting event X, Y, or Z and if not for that event we would not have access to it anyways.  Does anyone ever wonder where these magical sums of money come from? They show up just for mega-events but disappear when education or health care comes knocking? If Bloomberg says no resources will be diverted that means that they have EXTRA resources (which would also mean they were holding out to begin with), but as the Richter's statement above explains the police working the race are anything but extra.

Furthermore, the idea that people spending money will solve the problem is the capitalist answer to everything.  Spend money on research for AIDS and cancer and the problem will be fixed. Spend money and the economy will get back on its feet.  We've heard it all before and the problem is that usually that money doesn't go to where it needs to go.  The continuation of the marathon benefits New York tourism better than it does New York residents and that is what all of these big sporting events do.  They are aimed at bringing people into the city so that they can spend their money and leave afterwards.  These events are not designed with the local residents in mind; the residents who vote in that particular region.  Think about it, as a local when are we ever happy that the streets are shut down for a major event? Don't we all think it's a headache to have detours all over the place and our regular schedules interrupted? Does it provide a spectacle for the city? Absolutely. And there are times and places when this is appropriate but immediately after a natural disaster is probably not one of those instances.  Obviously, there will be some local New Yorkers who run the race but given the week that they have had I'm guessing that many of them will not be in peak condition to compete.

The other argument that the marathon demonstrates the strength of the city on it's road to recovery is really just tacked on because it sounds good.  Again, everyone says it.  The Olympics will bring money and show the world how fantastic we are.  The strength of a city comes from its people and if your people are hungry, cold, and homeless they probably won't be available to beat drums and wave banners for people who willingly ran 26.2 miles.  If your people are asking for help and you say this marathon will make you feel normal and take your mind off your troubles you had better have something else concrete for them.  I agree that a sense of normalcy is important but the New York Marathon is not a sense of normalcy for the city at this point.  A sense of normalcy would be people waiting less than 6 hours to get gas.  A sense of normalcy would be the ability to use the subway.  But it's fine because the marathon will be a win-win situation for New York:

Mary Wittenberg, chief executive of New York Road Runners, defended Bloomberg's decision to hold the race, saying it would be used as a platform to lift the spirits and raise money.  Her organization plans to donate $1 million, or $26.20 for every runner who starts the race, to relief efforts in the city.  The Rudin Family and ING, two sponsors of the race, will donate a combined $1.6 million to storm relief.

So relief is still needed but Wittenberg, from what it sounds like, will only donate if people run the race.  Is this philanthropy or ransom? I'm going to hold this until you give me what I want.  Shouldn't we find it questionable when those who benefit financially from the race are the ones who refuse to postpone it and then also write a cheque for the very reason that people don't want the race to continue as planned?  I find it an interesting example of cognitive dissonance.  Thanks for the $27 out of the $150-$350 race fee!  If you have the money then donate it. That is a show of goodwill and humanitarianism.  This should not be a financial transaction.

Simon Ressner, a lieutenant in the Fire Department, said he has

written two e-mails to the Road Runners saying, "Just postpone it." That way, you'll still get the money, you'll still have a high-profile event, but it would show that you're being sensitive.  But now, we're not going to show the world we're resilient, we're going to show them we're selfish.

Sport brings out the best and the worst of us.  In one game we can see victory and defeat, violence and compassion, respect and contempt.  Unfortunately, I believe that continuing with the world's largest marathon this Sunday demonstrates a lack of sportsmanship on the behalf of race organizers and officials.  Considering how much respect the first responders of New York have received from the world after 9/11 the complete disregard for their feelings and well-beings is appalling.  Let's question which people benefit from this race taking place as scheduled.  As Filip Bondy from the NY Daily News writes, "Take a closer look this time at the runners as they limp across your screen. You'll see they aren't exactly a socioeconomic cross-section of the world."

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