Friday, November 2, 2012

In Defense of the Marathon

If you had told me on Monday that the city would be in this much turmoil about the marathon not being cancelled as a result of Hurricane Sandy, I wouldn't have believed you, but there certainly has been a lot of opposition and a lot of heated debates.  As evidenced here and here.

A view from our apartment: the crane that Sandy broke.

I understand the concerns and I certainly do feel very bad for the people whose lives have been devastated by the Hurricane, but in all honesty, I'm not sure that I agree that they would be helped greatly by cancelling the marathon.  Here is my thinking:

The crux of most of these articles is that the resources being used for the marathon could be used to help people in need.  I'm all for helping people in need, but I don't think people are necessarily thinking about the logical domino effect of cancelling the race.

  1. Concerning food / gels / water that is disbursed at the marathon - People seem to be acting like Bloomberg has allotted city funds to purchase this Gatorade.  But Gatorade and Poland Springs are marathon sponsors, and to the best of my knowledge, they are supplying those goods.  It's not like cancelling the marathon means that those goods would automatically be turned over to people impacted by the hurricane.  True, some of the sponsor could choose to then allocate the resources that way, but the city doesn't know that this is what they will do.  Additionally, these large sponsor corporations could chose to send supplies to those in need independent of whether or not the race goes on.
  2. Hotels that could otherwise be sheltering people who are displaced are holding runners - Again, this seems to be implying that the city would have power to delegate the use of these rooms for displaced citizens.  But these are private businesses and their willingness to give free shelter or housing to people without power / homes / etc is entirely up to them.  Even without the marathon, they may not chose to devote their ballrooms to those in need.

    Just because the marathon is cancelled does not mean that some people who've already booked their non-refundable travel wouldn't come anyway.  Imagine if you were an international tourist who spent four figures to fly to NYC for the first time and both your flight and your hotel costs are non-refundable, not to mention the ~$300 you spent on marathon entry.  You might decide that you were going to at least go see some of NYC given that you had spent so much money that you weren't getting back.  In that sense, cancelling the marathon would not solve this problem.

    Obviously this is not the case for everyone, but I certainly know people who are currently staying in hotels because they are affluent and it's less inconvenient than sleeping on a friend's sofa bed until they can get back to their expensive downtown apartments with power this weekend.  Are those people more deserving of a hotel room than people who spent months training for what may have been a life long dream?  I'd say that's debatable.
  3. Generators are being used for the marathon - These are owned by private businesses.  Again, it would be their prerogative to use for storm victims.  For Bloomberg to cancel the marathon on the presumption that the owners of those might be up for providing them for storm release would be a pretty big decisions to make on a hunch.  And yes, he could have gotten in touch with people to find out if they would be willing, but my guess is that the owners of those generators feel that as business people they have a first priority to the 40k+ people who paid them over $1M in entry fees to run the race.  I would also guess that that's why the NYRR has chosen to try to help the community in other ways, such as featuring a "donate to recovery efforts" section of its website.
  4. Volunteers could be helping in other ways - I don't disagree with this statement, but given that they're volunteers, they have the opportunity to withdrawal from their race day volunteering and volunteer elsewhere if they chose.  To say that every single person signed up to volunteer at the marathon would definitely sign up to volunteer for storm related efforts if the race was cancelled sounds pretty far fetched.

  5. Human capital could be devoted to helping in more beneficial ways - This is another one that I don't necessarily disagree with, except to say that I'm sure that Bloomberg knows more about what the demands of both situations are than most of us do, and if he felt they couldn't do both, he probably would have cancelled the race.  Also, I would imagine that a lot of the human capital that will be most beneficial to people getting back on their feet [home builders, energy company employees] are not very involved with the marathon.
So there's my two cents.  My heart does break for the people who are living the horrible impacts of Hurricane Sandy, but in my opinion cancelling the marathon would not largely improve their situation. 

Good luck to everyone running the race on Sunday!


  1. Agree! And I think you missed another point: the revenue generated by the marathon will greatly benefit the city and small businesses.

    To argue for the other side, I think for point #5, cops could be one of those categories of human capital greatly needed for the marathon AND for the storm recovery.

  2. I think it is such a tough ground, I think overall though he should have made the cancellation way earlier. Not two days before