Health Ministry Denies Fault in Death of Tel Aviv Marathon Runner

Senior ministry officials said the Tel Aviv Municipality decided on its own to go ahead with the half marathon and other shorter races after learning of the heat wave.

Dan Even
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Dan Even

Hours after the death of Michael Michaelovitch, a 29-year-old runner in the Tel Aviv marathon on Friday morning, the Health Ministry denied responsibility for holding the race, noting that the Tel Aviv Municipality had ultimately made the decision to go ahead with it on its own.

Senior officials in the ministry felt the city had unfairly deflected blame toward them after the death of Michaelovitch and the injuries of many others in the morning heat. They said an official from their ministry initiated contact with the city, calling its offices on Monday afternoon to warn that a heat wave was expected at the end of the week.

"The Health Ministry did not have any authority to decide on the holding or cancellation of the marathon, and it was not required to approve the event," said a senior ministry official. "If it had not been for the ministry's intervention, it would not have been involved in the event at all. So the decision to blame the ministry is outrageous. Was the ministry supposed to not intervene in light of the anticipated problems?"

He added, "Already on Monday, representatives of the Tel Aviv Municipality did everything they could to hold the event and searched for solutions, such as bringing the time of the races forward and shortening the heats."

Ministry officials said the ministry provided a forum of professionals to evaluate the city's proposed responses to the forecasted heat wave over the telephone. They said the ministry consulted the management of the Wingate Institute; professor Danny Moran, the head of The National Program for a Healthy and Active Lifestyle; professor Yoram Epstein, the head of physiology at the Heller Institute of Medical Research at the Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer and a researcher at Tel Aviv University; professor Itamar Grotto, the head of Public Health Services at the Health Ministry; professor Pinchas Halperin, the head of Emergency Medicine at Ichilov Hospital, and others.

Officials at the Culture and Sports Ministry, the Israel Defense Forces and the Tel Aviv Municipality were also involved, according to the ministry officials.

During these consultations, the officials said several solutions were discussed, including the one the municipality ultimately adopted: postponing the full marathon and moving up the times of the half-marathon, 4.2 kilometer and children's, inline skating and handcyle races.

At the Tel Aviv Municipality's request, a letter was released following its consultation with the Health Ministry, signed by Health Ministry Director General Dr. Boaz Lev. The letter explains why the full-length race should be cancelled, but does not make the same recommendation about the half-marathon race.

The senior ministry official emphasized, "The decision on what recommendation to adopt and how to adopt it was made by the Tel Aviv Municipality alone, after all the risks had been presented to it. The Tel Aviv Municipality could have decided to cancel all of the events; it had sole authority over the decision."

Another Health Ministry source noted the city only announced it was cancelling the marathon and going ahead with the shorter races on Tuesday, more than a day after the ministry approached it.

"If, as they claim at the municipality, the Health Ministry's decision was automatically adopted, why did it take a whole day after the ministry first warned them of the dangers of holding the marathon for them to come up with a decision? It is important that it is understood that the municipality had the sole authority regarding whether to hold the event or not."

After the race, Health Ministry Director General Ronni Gamzu ordered the establishment of a professional team to create standards for events held in severe weather conditions in cooperation with the Culture and Sports Ministry.

The Health Ministry said in a statement, "The professional team will formulate criteria for events held in regards to weather conditions, which local authorities and organizers will be subject to."

Magen David Adom rescue personnel treat a Tel Aviv Marathon participant, March 15, 2013. Numerous participants suffered from heat stroke and dehydration.
Runners, one holding an Israeli flag, participate in the Tel Aviv Marathon, March 15, 2013.Credit: Daniel Bar-On