Race Results: Public or Private

Last weekend there was a “festival” of running in Edinburgh; essentially, a series of races from junior races through the major road running distances from 5k to the iconic marathon distance, it was all about the running.  Unbeknownst to some of the participants, the organisers had taken an unprecedented step of not publishing a full set of results.  Why is it a problem?  And why would they do it?

Now I’m going to be honest, I wasn’t a participant so I wasn’t directly affected by the decision however, as a runner and a coach I was concerned of the implications this decision might have in terms of influencing other race organisers.

The organisers cited data privacy as the reason why they elected to only provide individuals with their own result and not publish a full, official list of results:

“Your personal data and information, including your results data, are treated with great respect. As such your result information is exclusively available to you within your My Details account after you have completed the race.”

Some of the more cynical of us might question this.  The guys at Xempo wrote a great blog showing how the organisers defeated their own argument by passing all the results to the official photographers who didn’t maintain the same discretion with result privacy.  They also look into some of the other slightly more cynical, but in my opinion, slightly more valid reasons why a race organiser might not want to disclose exactly how many of us completed a race.

I won’t go over the ground covered by Xempo, although I do have a couple of things to add.

1. Are they trying to exploit personal data rather than protecting it?

By forcing everyone who signs up to any of the races to have a “My Details” account and then forcing people to log into it to find out their result are they in fact building database of e-mail addresses and a guaranteed flow of hits on their website to enable them to exploit advertising revenues?

2. Was the race licensed?

I’ve been caught out before by this in the past.  As a massive data geek, I use RunBritain rankings to monitor my running progress both against myself and the running population as a whole.

Imagine my surprise when I went to officially secure a new 10k PB a few years ago after completing the  British 10k in London to find that the results were not recognised as the race hadn’t been licensed with UKA by the race organisers.  It saved them money but cost me some glory.  In hindsight it didn’t matter; I’ve smashed my PB since then in a number of licensed races but I vowed from that day never to enter an unlicensed race again.

The RunBritain rankings system only works when the full, official list of results is published.

As the Edinburgh Marathon Festival is in Scotland and the page I use to verify a race’s licensed status seems to only cover England & Wales I can’t draw any conclusions but I wonder if they were trying to save any disappointment by not publishing a full list of results?

3. Was it a chip-timing money-saving exercise?

This last one is a little straw-clutching – more of a thought that crossed my mind.  Generally, chip-timed races have the results hosted on the website of the chip timing company.

I wonder if you’d get money off by telling your chip timing supplier not to bother with hosting a fully searchable list of results.  I doubt it would be much but I’m having serious trouble understanding why they wouldn’t publish a full set of results.

Anyhow, after a surge of unwanted social media and old-school media coverage, including a Scotsman article, the organisers have come half way and allowed people to “opt in” to have their results published online in a co-ordinated list, with participants’ finishing position relative to the entire field, not just those published.

When you read the Edinburgh Marathon website (and the Bournemouth Marathon one for that matter – they’re both organised by the same company) there is a heck of a lot of flamboyant language and claims about how great their races are.  Maybe every race website is like that, competing for our attention.  I just get the feeling that these guys are stretching their claims.

I have certainly crossed the Edinburgh and Bournemouth festivals off my possible race list due to the “no full public results” policy.

A race is a public event, open to all so why shouldn’t the results be public?  And it’s a race.  Only one person can win, but we’re all racing each other and the clock.  Maybe some people aren’t concerned about their time but I would suggest that they form the minority of a race.  Now it’s different for an event such as Race for Life which is all about the participation but most people will have a certain expectation about a festival of running: that being, a full set of published results like every other race.

I’m not going to win a race or even come anywhere near the front but I want to see where I came, who finished around me and I always look to see what proportion of runners were in front of me, and how many were behind me.  I know roughly where I want to finish amongst the crowd and without a full set of results I can’t do that.

My major concern is if this is genuinely about data privacy, what will this do for publishing results for other races in the future?  Hopefully the furore will make other race organisers think again before implementing a similar policy.

If this is the way we’re heading I have a simple solution:

Upon entering the participant selects whether they are happy for their result to be listed in full, or for it to appear as a limited record with bib number but the name redacted for privacy.  Let’s hope it doesn’t get that messy.

What do you think?  Is it all a storm in a teacup?  Does it even matter?  Would you enter a race knowing full results would not be published?

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2 thoughts on “Race Results: Public or Private”

  1. Races are funny things…
    …why do so many of us (and I am firmly in this camp here myself) who have no realistic notion of finishing anywhere near the top runners, still ‘compete’ at all?

    If we want to run a half marathon, we can measure it out on a map or with GPS, etc and just run it. We don’t pay race entry JUST to have an accurately measured course.

    We can, if we are organised, hide drinks/nutrition along our planned route to collect on the way. Or we can arrange to meet friends/family to pass these to us… or we can just carry them. We don’t pay race entry JUST for drink stations.

    I don’t enter that many paid races at all these days and personally, I’m not interested in my world or national ranking, but on the occasions that I do enter a race, it’s because I want to run it in the context of other people running that race too. That’s why I try that little sprint finish at the end, to maybe catch that stranger in front…or to maybe avoid the stranger behind me from knocking me down a place.

    Without this, I might as well always just head out on my own, hiding drinks bottles behind trees.

    A race is run in the context of other runners and I wouldn’t want them excluded from the results any more than I’d want them excluded from the race itself.

    It’s not just about me.

  2. I’ve done the Edinburgh Half a couple of times and to be honest I’ve been put off any event organised by this ‘events’ company. A few years ago they had interesting medals which were rudely shaped shall we say. Even made an appearance on “Have I Got News for You”.

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