“It's only a number and it has been paid for”, is a regular defence proffered by ghost runners who have not entered themselves but run in races courtesy of someone else's generosity due to an untimely injury or unexpected commitment. But is it disrespectful to the organisers, fellow runners and the sport asks runABC South reporter, Alan Newman.
Races depend on our entry fees to cover the myriad costs associated with their promotion. If not supported by enough runners they disappear from the calendar. Expenses have escalated at an alarming rate in recent years, particularly with road races that generally have to pay for road closures, traffic management and essential facilities.
Despite that widely acknowledged truism, the practice of passing on unused race numbers is rife in our sport. The purpose of this commentary is to ask if there is any harm done and is there a better way of handling this inevitable pre-race shrinkage?
Things can go awry when a ghost runner acquires a prize for his/her number donor, leading to an awkward silence at race presentations or an illicit collection of ill-gotten gains. Sometimes prizes are posted out after the event. Do all race organisers have time to meticulously check credentials before sending the booty to the winners?
Most number sharing incidents go undetected and if the race is popular there will be very little lost revenue. This is probably why the issue is so common. However, in this digital age we all leave an indelible footprint when we compete: race photography, finish line video, smart phone capture, live results and ultimately the published results and ranking lists. This fact was made crystal clear to me recently when a friend in the North West sent me a link to a British fell running site carrying a rather distinctive photo of myself (above) running a 10k in Cyprus - there is no hiding place!
All this may seem to be a non-issue in many runners' eyes as they simply want to take part, have fun and perhaps raise a few bob for their chosen charities. However, this writer likes to support the organisers and prize winners and needs to be present to collect information for reports. Sadly, this has led to my witnessing many awkward situations as suspect times have been set by absentee category 'winners' of indeterminate age and gender. And yes, on the odd occasion, I have gone all guerilla and insisted on a correction when sure of my facts.
For their part, all race organisers want is to be able to provide a safe and enjoyable event with accurate and reliable results. As runners, we should play fair and not try to enter by the back door, potentially corrupting results, disrespecting organisers and our fellow competitors and perhaps even invalidating insurance cover.
Heaven forbid a serious incident happening involving a number bandit and the subsequent complex tangle of identification and any further investigation that may be required. Perhaps more organisers should exploit the available technology and offer an on the day number transfer for a small admin fee (or free). Just a thought...