Despite the clear and persistent warnings of a heat wave and the danger inherent in intense sports activities under such conditions, Tel Aviv Marathon officials did not cancel the half-marathon that took place Friday. The result was one death and 12 people seriously hurt.
The question of responsibility is complex. Those who participated in the race were adults who read the weather forecasts and knew that conditions would be harsh. But along with the personal responsibility each participant had, the Tel Aviv municipality and the Health Ministry must also be held accountable. The municipality, which organizes the race, obviously wasn’t eager to cancel such an event, particularly since a lot of money was invested in it and contracts with commercial sponsors were at stake. The Health Ministry is the professional body whose opinion was requested and which gave it, as area hospitals and the Magen David Adom rescue service were told to prepare themselves for the type of emergencies that in fact occurred.
This division of labor between organizers and advisers leaves an opening for denying responsibility and for the local government to blame the national government and vice versa. The municipality believes it fulfilled its responsibility by relying on the recommendation of physicians and as proof, notes that it postponed the full-length marathon to this Friday, making do with the shorter races. The Health Ministry, for its part, argues that it made its recommendations but didn’t have the authority to cancel the event.
This is a typical response to tragedies that take place at public events whose very existence are the result of administrative decisions, such as the Maagan disaster, when a light plane crashed into a crowd during a memorial event, killing 17 people and injuring 25 in 1954, and the Maccabiah bridge collapse of 1997 that killed four people and injured 60. In such cases the sense is that meticulously observing regulations and even more so, using common sense, could have saved lives. To reduce these risks in the future, there should be a thorough investigation of the circumstances that led to this latest tragedy.
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai should explain his decisions and the actions taken by his subordinates. The Health Ministry should also be asked to explain how its recommendations enabled the half-marathon to take place despite the very hot weather. It would also be worth having this comprehensive investigation determine once and for all who is ultimately responsible for events of this type, and set clear rules that cannot be subject to misinterpretation in instances where decisions may be tainted by irrelevant considerations.
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