Accountability and Obstacle Race Organizers

Does OCR need a governing body?

Does OCR need a governing body?

The August 2013 issue of Outside magazine featured an interesting article and guide to the current state of obstacle course racing (OCR). The magazine’s editors called on folks like Hobie Call and Junyong Pak to dole out advice on everything from what to wear to how to train. The article also suggests that while more Americans are taking part in OCR than even marathons, eager participants should also be wary of “cheap knockoffs.”

I am new to the world of OCR and have only been running in these types of events since March when I took part in the Spartan Race. Since then I have taken part in several others that ranged from very-well to poorly organized, but I was still able to participate and finish all of them (my favorite was the Barbarian Challenge in Gadsden, Alabama).

However, in that time I have also lost $115 because two events were cancelled – Hero Rush (Atlanta) and Badass Dash (Mountain City). While I am still waiting on my refund for the latter, I received a very terse email from the former saying that my registration would not be refunded because Hero Rush was going through bankruptcy. This is absurd and unacceptable.

While OCR has exploded in the U.S. for a number of reasons, the sport currently does not have any sort of organizing body. I think the time has come for race organizers, racers and enthusiasts to join forces and create some sort of governing body for the sport – at least in the United States. While there are many that may cringe at the notion of something so decentralized, so organic having a central, omnipotent body over it, I believe that the time is now. I am not saying there should be a limit on the number of races, but there should be a baseline for organizing an OCR. Here are some potential benefits:

1. Safety Standards: There are too many races now where participant safety is not taken into account. This could be in the form of poorly-constructed obstacles or lack of medical assistance.

2. Registration Refunds: If the race is cancelled or delayed, participants should always be able to get their money back. Participants may be asked if they want to use the registration for a later event, but they should at least be given the option of a full refund.

3. Charity Designations: To many OCR organizers are taking advantage of the willingness to give to charities and designate the money as supporting veterans and/or military, as well as benefiting children, with very little of the money raised going to either. A July 4th report by the Tampa Bay Times and the Center for Investigative Reporting concluded that of the 50 worst charities in America, 18 were for police, firefighters and military, and 13 for children.

I know that the sport is still growing, but without waiting for more events to be organized and then cancelled; more people losing their hard-earned money; and worse, more people getting injured or killed, I think the time is now to form a representative body to govern OCR. As Rage Against the Machine said, “It has to start somewhere, it has to start sometime, what better place than here? What better time than now?”

Shyam K. Sriram is a professor of political science in Atlanta. He is a proud member of Georgia Obstacle Racers and Mud Runners (GORMR).

Latest posts by Shyam Sriram (see all)

  1. This has been brought up a lot lately. How does one propose to get Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash and Spartan Race to work together without legislation?

    1. You don’t until an official sport is made of it. There is a lot of overhead cost in many ideas people have. Also governing bodies are normally a business as well. So membership fees would end up being applied to those who want to be part of it. This increases cost and will be passed to the participant. Just to see a list of events that fall under the governing body a cost could be applied to the participant. Imagine if obstacles all had to meet a certain guideline of safety, then this will turn into the loss of specific obstacles and the increase cost for the event owner. Remember every time you increase cost to event owner it actually means increasing your cost as a participant.

      Refunds are a touchy subject as almost every race says NO REFUNDS UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES. Yes it does suck when a race cancels. Normally a race will cancel because they had to cash out due to not enough sign-ups or just bad business formula. Land Fees, medals, t-shirts, tractors, contractors, port-o-podies etc…. Most spend all the money on these expenses up front. That leaves no more money. So the races that do offer a refund or partial refund. Your pretty much lucky.

      Charity Designations comment I agree with you 100%. I have seen events have false charities or event claim they are supporting a charity that they have never even contacted. Should this be regulated? Probably, but not by a governing body. I support non-profits one way and full-profit with 2% charity donation a different way.

      Just my thoughts….

  2. Shyam, this is a really good post and it resonates with me as a competitor and as an organiser.

    My company is producing a new race for Mar 2014 in the UK called the Human Hunt and, as a person and a businessman, I cannot imagine refusing to honour a refund if someone requests it.

    The business model in the tech industry has moved on considerably from contracts and treating the customer like a commodity, it is time for the other industries to catch up.

    *Refusing refunds? Has to stop.
    *Charging spectators? Has to stop.
    *Refusing to feed volunteers? Has to stop.
    *Unsafe obstacles? Has to stop.
    *Claiming ‘physical challenges’ are obstacles? Has to stop.

    Great article, really good subject to raise.


    1. hi
      i like what you say above
      can i ask wher eis my refund then from when you cancelled your race, 11 months ago

  3. What’s wrong with physical challenges? I like physical challenges because it takes away some of the advantage runners have.

  4. Hi I have a question for Shyam Sriram, did you ever get the refund from Badass Dash? I ask because in June 2014 they “postponed” their event in New Jersey and stated they will also change the venue. With that they have effectively gone silent on the subject and refuse any refunds or even communication. Any advise on getting a refund if you did manage to get yours? Thanks

  5. Badass Dash cancelled again! They cancelled the June 21st NJ event, and have not addressed their customers questions about refunds. They said a day before the originally scheduled event that they were “close to finalizing details” on a replacement race, but that was the last time they addressed their NJ-event customers. It’s disgusting, and I think charges should be filed against them.

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