Swopping race bibs may prove fatal to athletes

The Straits Times - by Danson Cheong (25 June 2011)

Blood type, allergies, next-of-kin contact info unique to each bib and critical in emergency

YOU could run into big problems if you wear someone else's bib to compete in a race and a medical emergency crops up.

This is because information like blood type, drug allergies, medical history and next-of-kin contact details are personalised and unique to each bib number. Participants have to provide such information when they register for races like marathons and triathlons.

Race organisers and sporting bodies said bib-swopping is prevalent, especially among amateurs and weekend warriors. Runners who have to drop out before the event sometimes give their bibs to a friend or sell their race slots online to avoid wasting the registration fee.

But in emergencies when every second counts, delays and mistakes during treatment could happen if the bib has been switched, said one race organiser, the Triathlon Association of Singapore.

These might include incorrect blood transfusions or the administration of drugs which may cause allergic reactions, said Dr Jason Chia, head of the Sports Medicine and Surgery Clinic at Tan Tock Seng Hospital. 'This can result in organ failure or death,' he added.

Mr Adrian Mok, director of HiVelocity, said the problem is compounded if the athlete is unconscious as it would be a lot harder to verify his medical information. The sporting events company organises the Sundown Marathon and Aviva Ironman 70.3 Singapore Triathlon.

Mr Frankie Lee, chief of events and marketing at the Singapore Athletic Association, said athletes swop bibs at their own risk. 'You have to think of worst-case scenarios. Accidents can happen.'

Last week, 14-year-old Jacky Ong made the headlines after he won the 10km category in the Sundown Marathon on May 28, and was found to be wearing another person's bib. He was among a string of runners - including full-marathon winner Willy Rotich - disqualified for such infractions.

In the wake of the Sundown Marathon's disqualifications, more stringent checks will be put in place at today's Sundown UltraMarathon.

Mr Mok said winners will be screened before they can claim prizes.

Some athletes The Straits Times spoke to said they were unfazed about the dangers of transferring bibs.

Mr Ou Yong Xuan Sheng, 23, took over a friend's slot in the Aviva Ironman 70.3 Singapore Triathlon in March this year. 'I understand it's dangerous but it's a risk I take. Most of us just don't want to forfeit the race slot we paid good money for,' he said.

Depending on the type of race, registration fees can cost from $60 to $400. This year's Aviva Ironman 70.3 Singapore Triathlon race cost $395.

Mr Ian Lee, 39, a marketing manager who participates in cycling and running events, said race slots are also sold on online forums. 'Most of the time, it's unforeseen circumstances that cause us to be unable to compete at the last minute,' he said.

But some athletes feel the risk is too big. Triathlon coach and former national triathlete Poon Pek Ya, 42, said: 'Why should you leave your life and well-being to chance?'

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Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.