Last week, the IU Student Foundation announced the Little 500 races are postponed to Wednesday, May 26 after deliberations with IU administration, the IU Medical Response Team and the Monroe County Health Department.
While I applaud the efforts of IUSF to prioritize the health of essential Little 500 workers and the larger community, what does this decision say about our priorities?
The medical response team approved 15 home football and basketball games, most taking place during what was hopefully the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, the medical response team is allowing up to 500 spectators to attend the men’s basketball NCAA tournament games at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. Bars and restaurants in Monroe County can now serve until 2 a.m., allowing individuals to congregate indoors and maskless.
Is it not hypocritical to claim that delaying the Little 500 until May 26 will keep the Bloomington community safe while for-profit gatherings are not only already permitted, but encouraged?
Like NCAA athletes, Little 500 riders dedicate countless hours to their sport. Now riders are wondering if they’ll even be here to race. Clearly riders were not involved in the decision to postpone, as any rider would have warned that delaying the races creates multiple participation barriers.
Rescheduling the race to a Wednesday nearly three weeks after graduation directly conflicts with a core value of the race: Raising scholarship money for working students. On May 26, many riders will be working at internships or full-time jobs, and many will not be living in Bloomington.
Now riders have to determine if and how they can safely return to Bloomington without spreading the coronavirus. Teams are uncertain if they’ll have enough riders for race day.
Limiting attendance to essential personnel and adopting COVID-19 testing protocols is undeniably the right call. However, I am deeply concerned with how the postponement will affect rider participation.
Since 1951, the annual Little 500 materializes — except in 2020 — because of riders sharing the sport and community with younger generations. While I’m glad that the race isn’t outright canceled, postponing penalizes riders rather than addressing the true public health concern: partygoers exhibiting reckless, unsafe behavior.
Delaying the race reduces the number of teams able to participate and hinders future rider recruitment. The postponement is indisputable, but we still must do everything we can to support the riders.
What can we do? Voice solidarity. Get creative. We cannot let postponing prevent riders from participating in this beloved IU tradition.
A four-year Little 500 alumna, former Riders Council member (2015-2016), former Riders Council Vice President (2016-2017), and current doctoral candidate in the IU School of Public Health.