An awkward moment for the IORF at the OCRWC

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Much has been written about the third annual OCR World Championships held last weekend at the Blue Mountain Resort in Ontario, Canada. The International Obstacle Racing Federation also chose last weekend to host its annual conference at the same location. Its president Ian Adamson wanted to take part in the race, and this has led to some friction between Ian and OCRWC CEO Adrian Bijanada. I spoke to both of them today to sort out what happened.

First, a little background about Ian and the IORF.  Established in 2014 to promote obstacle racing, the IORF describes itself as the world governing body of OCR. Equivalents in other sports might be the IAAF for track/athletics or the ITU  for triathlon. It is no secret that the IORF was originally the idea of Spartan Race founder Joe De Sena, but the IORF has officially established its independence from Spartan in order to work with the IOC to try to get OCR into the Olympic Games.

Meanwhile, also in 2014, Adrian Bijanada founded the OCRWC. Part of the event’s origin involved the desire to sell OCR-appropriate gear, but it has blossomed into an annual event that attracts athletes from around the globe to what has been perceived as a well-organized professional end-of-season event that brings together talent from many different race series as well as obstacles from those events. In addition to elite races, the OCRWC features races for age groupers and those of us who will never set foot on a podium, as well as a charity event on the last day.

While the IORF congress and the OCRWC happened on the same weekend at the same venue, they were not organized together, and the two groups keep a safe distance. Ian and Adrian had discussed the possibility of Ian racing the course, but nothing was ever finalized. Ian explained to me that in the days leading up to the race he tried to reach Adrian, who was understandably busy, and at the event Ian talked to people from 365, the company that produced the event about jumping in. He climbed over a fence and joined in one of the waves of racers. Later on, he raced the course again with a team, having registered in advance for the team event.

A few days later, in a closed group on Facebook, Ian joined in a comment thread discussing fairness to athletes on the course. Very rarely does a story that starts with someone joining a Facebook comment thread end well. All the same, since part of IORF’s mission is to promote safety and fairness for the athletes at races, Ian chimed in with his input regarding fairness, and he mentioned that he had completed the course in an admirably fast 1:55. Another enterprising commenter noted that his time did not appear in the published race results, at which point Ian mentioned that he didn’t have a bib or a timing chip for the event. From there, things spiralled downwards, leaving many with the impression that could be expressed as “IORF official bandits OCRWC race”.

Running a race as a bandit is a phenomenon that drives race organizers crazy. For those unfamiliar with the term, running as a bandit means taking part in an event without paying an entry fee and without the permission of the organizers. People run as bandits at events because they can’t get into a race, can’t qualify, or don’t want to pay an entry fee. While it may seem like a victimless crime to some, it is not only unfair to racers who did qualify and pay to enter, it puts race organizers at risk. A bandit racer who collapses on the course has not signed a waiver and has not provided the organizers with any emergency contact information. It is also a theft of services. It is a bad thing to do. That said, not everyone who enters a race pays an entry fee. Racers are comped for a variety of reasons, but even then, the protocol still requires those racers to register, sign a waiver, and wear a bib like everyone else in the race.

So why did Ian, who is an experienced adventure racer, simply jump into the race without a bib? He explained to me that he wanted to evaluate the course, “and the only way to do that was to get my feet dirty, to talk to the volunteers and the race officials.”. He told me that when officials from international federations host their counterparts from other sports at championships, officials get what are essentially all-access VIP passes, and it would not be uncommon for a federation official to compete alongside the age groupers. Since this behavior was common at other international championships, he did not think what he was doing would be a problem. In retrospect, he told me, it was an oversight on his part. He explained that he was thinking like an international race official, and not from the perspective of an athlete. His goal was to do something for the health of the sport, but his execution was faulty.

Meanwhile, Adrian found himself in an awkward position. The highest priority of any race director is the safety of the participants, and the head of the international federation had just admitted to committing a fundamental breach of safety protocol. Today he told me “While I understand that  the IORF is trying to position itself as a governing body, having an official illegally enter a race is unacceptable regardless of that individual’s intentions. Individuals need to understand that they put themselves at risk as well as others.” Everyone needs to register to race, “otherwise we have no idea who is on the course, and should an individual needed medical attention, or if someone falls down a ravine, we do not know that they are there. While I admire his intentions, this may not have been the best course of action.” Adrian also explained to me that race officials compare the numbers of everyone who crosses the start line and the finish line to make sure that no one has been left out on the course. Given how rigorous the terrain is at many obstacle course races, this is a smart safety routine. 

What are the consequences of Ian jumping into the race without a bib? Adrian told me: “I prefer not to address race violations publicly, but we do want to note that Mr. Adamson did violate the rules by effectively banditing the race and entering the race without permission. We have informed him that we have prohibited him from participating in the 2017 events.”

Adrian wrote us close to press time to add  “I truly respect Ian and admire his desire to drive OCR forward. However, it’s important that our organization take a consistent approach in addressing infractions regardless of who commits them”.

Ian has apologized, and there are plenty of lessons to be learned. For starters, never bandit a race. Also, if you break the rules, don’t mention it on Facebook, even in the comments, even in a closed group, even if you didn’t think you were breaking the rules at the time. Finally, there are plenty of people who care about this sport and want to make sure it is safe for everyone. Let’s encourage that kind of concern.

Update 10:05am EST Jesse Fulton, president of 365 Sports and partner for this year’s OCRWC championship sent us an email which reads:

“As much as we want everyone to enjoy our events in no way would we ever allow someone to access the course without going through the proper registration steps, most importantly signing a waiver. This event was insured by our personal insurance policy and we would never allow someone access to the course without a signed waiver. Even the Dj’s and the staff/volunteers all had to sign them. In addition, we do not have the ability nor the power to allow someone access without the expressed permission of OCRWC”

– Jesse Fulton 365 Sports Inc.

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Christopher Stephens

Christopher is an attorney, a middle-of-the-pack triathlete, a marathoner, an open water swimmer, and a recovering Jeopardy contestant. A native New Yorker, he trains in the rugged wilderness of Central Park and can sometimes be found swimming in the Hudson. He also bakes pies. Delicious pies.
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