Overall, I consider myself to be a fairly ethical person.
I try not to knowingly break the law, and when I do I pay the consequences (literally pay: yes, I'm looking at you, Cape Cod police officer who gave me the $170 speeding ticket Labor Day weekend). I don't download movies or music illegally. I don't use prescription drugs that aren't prescribed to me and I don't use them for anything other than their intended use. I haven't used any illegal drugs since I smoked pot a few times in high school (and got really sick and threw up for days, but that's another story). I've never jailbroken an iphone. I try to be a fair and honest person in my dealings with coworkers and acquaintances.
And yet, I recently had someone tell me that he considered me to be terribly unethical. And it was because of a running-related issue that I hadn't even given a second thought to: an "illegal" bib transfer. (Not that it makes a difference for the greater ethical question, but I was technically only a conduit in this bib exchange - I helped a friend find someone to run a race when she couldn't.)
|My first marathon. Whatever happened|
to Race Ready shorts? They were
the RAGE then.
Here are the rules, as you know: Most races, with the exception of Marine Corps, do not allow bib transfers for any reason. When you buy a bib, you are committing to run the race. If you get injured, if your plans change, if you die, or if you otherwise just don't want to run the race, that's too bad. You're out the money and no one can race in your name.
Thing is, racing has changed a lot in the past few years. I signed up for my first marathon about two weeks before the race (by mailing a check! I'm so old). Nowadays, major races sell out months in advance - sometimes on the day registration opens, months before training even begins, long before you have any sense of what your plans will be. I also remember, fondly, paying about $60 to register for this race (and thinking that was expensive) - this year's NYCM cost $266 to register. Obviously races count on non-participants, overselling their events safe in the knowledge that many people won't toe the line. So why does it often feel sort of like they're taking advantage of you?
Naturally, this creates a large market for bibs. Search craigslist
shortly before a major race and you'll find loads of people trying to unload their bibs and recoup some of their registration fees.
Typically, I've treated bib transfers as a victimless non-crime. In fact, I honestly saw it as completely harmless and never even gave it a second thought. Someone paid for a race registration, thus reserving a slot in the race. What difference does it make who
the person showing up is, whether they're different from the one who signed up or not? As long as they're not being intentionally deceptive - i.e., making large sums of money off the transaction or getting someone to run the race in their name in order to qualify for Boston - what's the harm? I can give away my theater tickets to a friend - what's the difference? Plus, it has a rather David and Goliath/Robin Hood feel to it, with the greedy race directors taking advantage of the innocent runners. And here's your chance to get something back from the big guy!
So is it unethical, or is it our prerogative as consumers? Have we bought
the bib, in which case it's ours to do with as we want? Or should I be thinking of it like airline tickets, and accepting that non-transferable does mean non-transferable?