The Staten Island Runner

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October 15, 1999  

NYRROArs   by Glenn Ribotsky

An ongoing commentary on issues in the Staten Island and metropolitan road racing community, complied through the auspices of the New York Road Race OmbudsAssociation.


Once again, this latest installment of the column is inspired by some recently received e-mail queries. A couple of readers, who apparently have only recently stumbled across this site, have written in to ask exactly what NYRROA is and what it does, and it is true that it’s been a while since that was discussed in this space. So, to rectify that situation, a little historical sojourn.

NYRROA was organized in 1996 as the idea of a few individuals active in road racing—not all of them athletes, but officials and technicians as well—who had become increasingly disturbed with some directions the sport was taking and thought that an organized advocacy group would be better able to focus attention on various issues and to act as a catalyst for change. Many of these people (such as myself) had been individually involved with issues in the sport for a considerable time before that, but felt that the strength in numbers approach, and the utilization of new forms of communication, such as the Internet, would help quicken the glacial pace of the sport’s evolution. A small executive committee was created—the process was not very formal; basically, it fell to those who volunteered--to act as a funnel to collect and respond to concerns (it’s also responsible for most of the documents NYRROA produces). In order to ensure the freedom to advocate for/criticize/comment on any and all individuals and organizations in the sport, committee members cannot be members of any other running organization that produces events (thought they can be members of running teams if these are not involved in any way in event administration). For the most part, the rest of the loose NYRROA network acts as the eyes and ears of that committee, bringing issues to its attention. The name itself comes from the concept of the Ombudsman, originally that position in the governments of Scandinavian nations charged with being the advocate of the average citizen.

As primarily a critical advocacy organization, NYRROA’s tools are the letter, the petition, the forum (such as this Web site), and, sometimes, the boycott. Because some of its members have certain talents in event organization and scoring, NYRROA has also played a proactive consultant role in specific instances, advising events and organizations so problems may be avoided.

While change is often slow and incremental in this sport, with its history of autocratic control and hungry egos, NYRROA has had some success in its advocacy and advisory efforts. Among its projects have been:

The improvement of the New York Road Runners Club (NYRRC) Summer Speed Series in Clove Lakes Park, Staten Island. As many followers of this column are aware, the passing of Kurt Steiner, for whom the Summer Speed Series is named, and the assumption of the administration of the race by Events Management Group led to many problems with scoring, course measurement, timing, and awards, to the extent that local Island runners were not only boycotting the race (which they considered to have become an insult to Kurt’s memory), but a competing race was originated--the Twilight Speed Run. As the result of a long process initiated by NYRROA (which included letters and petitions to the NYRRC, negotiations with its officers and board of directors, and support of the boycott), finally, this past summer, the race, though still not as well attended as it had been some years ago, began to look more like its old self—the course was accurately re-measured, timing was made more accurate, refreshments began to be provided (the Twilight Speed Run had started this practice, which Events Management Group finally saw fit to emulate), and the problem of absentee administration removed—Events Management Group principals were finally on hand for all races in the Series. (The developments in this situation are ongoing; NYRROA is in sympathy with the desire of many local runners to have Events Management Group removed entirely from the administration of the race, and this will continue to be advocated for.)

The ongoing encouragement of professional event administration. By continually reviewing the scoring and administration processes at road race events and keeping a database of people/organizations involved in race administration, NYRROA has been able to steer some already established events towards more professional and responsible service providers, as well as to make recommendations to newly emerging events. (On Staten Island, for instance, this has resulted in a number of existing races shifting from Events Management Group to Elite Racing Services, which has led to an overall reduction in administrative problems. Several new events—most notably, the Rosebank Run for the Roses and the Corrine’s Pride 5K Run, have had the foresight to consult with NYRROA even before the races first appeared on the calendar, circumventing some difficulties before they even arose, and they continue to seek input to improve and grow.)

The publicizing of the not-always-professional goings-on at large running organizations/governing bodies. The reporting by NYRROA of the process by which candidates are chosen to run for the NYRRC’s Board of Directors, or of the electoral process at the Metropolitan Athletics Congress (MAC)--the local affiliate of the sports national governing body, USA Track & Field--has been widely read and commented on, and has contributed to the public pressure brought by these organizations’ members for reform. Maverick outsider Julie Giesler probably owes, at least in part, her surprising election to NYRRC’s Board of Directors last September (she is the first member elected in recent memory without the sponsorship of a current member) to NYRROA’s very public criticism of the Board’s insularity (and to its advice on campaigning). NYRROA’s articles on the MAC elections were widely picked up by the local press and have contributed to the increased national scrutiny the local affiliate is now under, and it may also have contributed to the decision by the Long Island elements in MAC to split away and form a USA Track & Field chapter of their own.

NYRROA will continue to be the voice of the running community, addressing these and other concerns--acting as an information clearinghouse, encouraging fairness and efficiency in the administration of events, monitoring the influence of sponsorship, and reporting on the sport with a critical and independent eye. There is now discussion of expanding nationally, so, as always, NYRROA invites those with concerns, ideas, and spirit to get involved.

Glenn Ribotsky
Chair, New York Road Race OmbudsAssociation
84 Vogel Loop
Staten Island, NY 10314