Penticton race for sale or not?

Based on what we read today on the Challenge Penticton website, a statement from those in charge of this race casts in error a characterization published here, when I wrote two-and-a-half days ago that the City of Penticton was seeking a "buyer" for its race.

In that piece I reported the arc of this race, from its beginning to where we are today. I hope I was able to portray in my reporting a theme: The City has been, since this event's early years, conflicted about who owns this race; if it is in fact "ownable"; whether there is a moral right to earn money from it; and why people come to race it.

In the days since I wrote this piece the Penticton Triathlon Race Society – the non-profit set up by the City to produce this race – placed a statement on its website (linked to above), with the following quote: "Is Challenge Penticton Canada for sale? Absolutely not. Are we opening the door for others to take the reins and make this the most successful race and festival experience for athletes, businesses, and our community? YES."

In consideration of this, and because, yes, if you go back and look at the original Expression of Interest there is no actual statement saying that it is "selling" the race, Penticton is justified in saying it is not selling this race. Rather, that it is looking for individuals who will "organize and execute" the race.

In reporting for my original piece I asked both the Communications Director for the City of Penticton, and a member of the City Council who has chaired various Penticton race societies from this event's inception, "Who owns this race?". As I tried to express in the piece that I wrote, the answer from Penticton's side is just not clear. It's as if the question was irrelevant, or beside the point.

The City found out that if the race is not a thing that is owned, the debt it rings up certainly is. This is what it wants to offload. Does it want to "lease" the race? It doesn't just want to find someone to operate its event because it already has that person under contract for this year and could, presumably, renew that contract, or find someone else to produce it.

It isn't simply looking for someone to produce this race, because it wants the new operator to demonstrate, "the financial ability of the organization to host the event and compensate the City for expenses incurred to date." That smells, looks, and tastes like a "sale" of the race. But, the Society maintains that's not the case. Understood. This race is not for sale.

But if this is the case, the City lives with a central misunderstanding about the nature of risk and reward. It also lives in a fictional world where there is one body of water in which to swim in Canada, one set of roads through the countryside, and one aggregation of hotels near the venue. As longtime Canadian Ironman competitor Devashish Paul put it:

"I did Ironman Canada Penticton 6 times. I loved the race, it changed my life, but I think the locals in Penticton who think they are special are trapped in pre-1999, before Graham Fraser put on Ironman Lake Placid. I can say for sure that both Placid and Tremblant were just as good or better than Penticton. I liked Ironman France better than Penticton. Ironman Switzerland was just as good as Penticton. Nothing really special about Penticton."

It is not that Penticton and its race are not special. They are. It's that this race venue is not unique and it is not irreplaceable. I am not against this city's attempt to host a successful race. I am on the City's side. I am on Challenge's side. I am rooting for this race. The problem is the City's approach to this. This race was supposed to be Challenge's beachhead in North America and the City is engaging in a preposterous exhibition of come here, get away.

It's as if the City sees the race not like an equity or a business, to be owned, husbanded and built, but like a thought - not a thing - but like a poem, of what Archibald McLeish wrote, "does not need to mean, but be." Maybe the City of Penticton should set this race free, and if it comes back to them it's their race, and if doesn't, it never was.

[The image is a detail from the 1991 Ironman Canada race poster, courtesy of Lynn Van Dove.]