You might want to steer clear of central and northern Tel Aviv this evening. Tonight is the Nike Night Run*, and a record 20,000 runners have signed up for the 10-kilometer race up Ibn Gvirol St, along Rokach Blvd, and through Yarkon Park. For a few hours, the streets belong to us.
The event is a lot of fun, starting off with a “happening” in Rabin Square and ending with a dance party at the Sportek.
Not everyone sees it that way. A group of well-heeled and probably well-intentioned middle-class Israelis has decided that the Nike Night Run is a blot on society and the local athletic calendar. A Facebook page is devoted to encouraging a boycott of the event, and some of the more dedicated – to their credit – actually took constructive steps and founded an alternative 10K event, the Open Night Run, which took place last Thursday. (I ran there, too.)
The anti-Nike Night Run crowd also argues that the registration fees for the event are prohibitively high. Not true. Most 10K races in Israel cost about NIS 80 to enter; early registration for Nike cost NIS 100 – a little higher, yes, but hardly off the charts. Incidentally, the registration fees for the 10K segments of the Jerusalem and Tel Aviv marathons cost NIS 100-120, and no one complains.
So do people find so offensive about the Night Run? Surprisingly, not the company’s policies. If these folks were claiming that Nike was an abhorrent corporate entity that they refused to support in any way, shape, or form, I’d understand. But the sneaker manufacturer’s questionable labor practices don’t seem as offensive as the fact that the Night Run is seen as a “commercial” and a “marketing opportunity.”
The fact is, corporations sponsor all kinds of events, and not out of the goodness of their hearts. Large-scale road races entail major logistical arrangements, and big business has the resources to put on a good show. They provide the event, and in return rake in publicity. Quid pro quo.
According to the sloppy logic of the anti-Night Run crowd, who will be turning their backs on tonight’s event like a cat pointedly ignoring its owner, no one should attend concerts because they’re commercial events that funnel money into the promoters’ pockets. Tickets are too expensive, anyway, and you can listen to the CD at home. And we can rest assured that none of them ever go out to bars or restaurants, which are commercial enterprises that charge a huge mark-up. Anyone who was really serious about food and drink would buy a bottle of wine and cook dinner at home, right?
But people go out to eat and drink for reasons that have little to do with hunger or thirst, and runners, who spend untold hours pounding the pavement alone, “for free,” sometimes want the exhilarating experience of being part of a crowd.
*The author is not an employee of Nike and is not affiliated with the company in any way, other than participating in the abovementioned race.