Susan Ragan/AP

Officials Tone Down Bay to Breakers Race: San Franciscans Angry

February 28, 2009 10:00 AM
by Cara McDonough
Officials have announced new, more stringent rules for the San Francisco Bay to Breakers race; distressed participants say the wild stunts were what made it fun.

Sponsor Announces ‘Zero Tolerance’ Policy

Insurance group ING, the race sponsor, has released a statement announcing a “‘zero tolerance policy’ on alcohol, floats and nudity” during the event, scheduled to occur on May 17.

Residents who live on the race route object to the “anti-social behavior,” including a high volume of trash and public urination. The 12K race, which goes from the San Francisco Bay across the city to the breakers of the Pacific Ocean, is famous for runners’ wacky costumes—and those who run completely nude—and odd floats.

But race participants and other supporters of the event say cracking down on Bay to Breakers ruins the fun. “If you can’t be naked running around the streets here, where can you?” said resident Stuart Schuffman.

The announcement has already spawned an official protest group, Citizens for the Preservation of Bay2Breakers, complete with an official Web site. By Wednesday, more than 22,000 people had signed a petition on the group’s Web site, objecting to the new rules and vowing to boycott race registration.

Background: Ruining the Fun?

Authorities are often the object of scorn when they attempt to “ruin the fun” at public events. This year, city officials in Savannah, Ga. approved several changes to the city’s annual St. Patrick’s Day festival, one of the biggest in the country. Among the changes: far fewer beer vendors on the streets.

The discussion reportedly caused squabbles among residents as well as vendors. A local business owner said the new rules make for a “safer environment.”

Sometimes officials are forced to go even further than simply placing restrictions on events.  “Apple Chill” was a family-friendly street fair in Chapel Hill, N.C., with vendors, food and music. But an unofficial post-fair event called “After Chill,” involved out-of-towners flooding into Chapel Hill and engaging in raucous, and even violent, behavior. After several shootings in 2006, the town council decided to permanently cancel the fair.

Historical Context: Bay to Breakers

Perhaps the reason some are so upset about proposed changes to the annual race, is that it began as an antidote to a great tragedy—the earthquake of 1906—and has grown to be one of the city’s most well-known and celebrated events.

According to the ING Bay to Breakers official Web site, since its earliest beginnings, the race has “prevailed as a testament to San Francisco’s uniqueness and audacity.” The race brings in more than 65,000 participants and 100,000 spectators annually, and brings a “giant wave of athleticism, fun, frivolity, and determination flowing across the City from the bay to the ocean.”

Last year’s race included a “roiling, shimmying crowd of superheroes, robots, Olympic torch runners, guys in hula skirts and guys with no costumes at all,” reported the San Francisco Chronicle.

Although the scene quickly devolved into more of a party than an athletic event, as it usually does, there were actual winners: John Korir, 32, of Kenya, won for the second year in a row in the men’s: Lineth Chepkurui, 20, also of Kenya, won in the women’s.

By 9:45 p.m., “Hayes Street had become a rollicking, boozy, music-filled festival with naked and semi-naked people dancing,” but there were no deaths, major injuries or felony arrests.

Reference: San Francisco

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