Iditarod Trail Committee Board of Directors
United States of America

June 2, 2016

The Iditarod Trail Committee Board of Directors (ITC) recently passed a rule change which allows the use of two-way communication devices in the Iditarod Race. Even the late addition of the “no outside assistance (coaching)” clause to the rule is unenforceable and creates a problematic situation.

Iditarod Rule 35 currently states:

“A musher may carry and use any two-way communication device(s), including, but not necessarily limited to, a cell and/or satellite telephone. Use of any such device for outside assistance (coaching) will result in disqualification. Use of such devices may not be used for any media purposes during the course of the race unless expressly approved in advance by ITC. A musher may also carry an emergency locator transmitter (ELT), a Spot™, or other similar satellite tracking device. However, activation of any help or emergency signal, including accidental activation, may make a musher ineligible to continue and may result in an automatic withdrawal from the race. Use of a GPS is also permitted.”

While Rule 35 takes steps to address safety concerns on the trail, it also creates a situation in which every musher has access to unregulated communication. Enforcing the “no coaching” rule becomes impossible, and the integrity of the race is jeopardized. This was a key topic at the latest Iditarod Official Finishers Club (IOFC) meeting in Nome after the 2016 race. The IOFC minutes were presented to the ITC during discussion of this rule change. The IOFC’s official recommendation voted on by the mushers and passed by a majority vote was:

“That Iditarod Trail Committee provide a two- way communication device (such as the inReach device) that is capable of being carried ‘on the person’ to each musher. It would enable them to communicate with the race marshal in the case of emergency, but would not allow for private communication.”

Making it legal to carry two-way communication for emergency use only can be achieved without adversely impacting the race. Potential solutions include:

• Mushers be allowed, but not required, to carry a two-way communication device of their choice, registered with race officials prior to race start and stowed in a container such as a sealed vinyl bag or “Otter Box,” and secured with a tamper-proof seal to be approved at the discretion of race officials. Such device would be subsequently checked in at the race finish as required gear. Tamper-proof seals would be checked and if broken, any phone numbers called or contacts made would be investigated.

• ITC provides a satellite phone or inReach device for mushers who request it. ITC has unlimited access to all call logs via a server or some other method that does not allow mushers to delete past calls or text records. If this is cost prohibitive, mushers who opt to carry the device may be charged a fee to offset the expense.

It is important for the race to know who has a device and who does not. To prevent mushers from using the device for outside assistance and then “losing” it, the device must be carried to the finish line where it will be checked along with other mandatory equipment, or else signed over to a race official at an approved checkpoint. Loss of the device should result in a substantial time penalty, long enough to ensure competitive mushers do not misuse the device, but short enough that if truly accidentally lost the musher can still finish the race.

To effectively address safety concerns, it is suggested that the ITC establish a 24-hour emergency contact line during the race to field emergency calls. An operator will have the ability to contact appropriate personal (race officials, veterinarians, police, local rescue personal, etc.). A musher will not be penalized for calling the approved ITC number. However, if the musher subsequently receives outside assistance he/she may be disqualified as described in Rule 31.

This is not intended as a “security blanket” for rigors of the trail or race-related challenges, but actual threats to the life and well-being of a musher or team such as from human assault, or a loose dog team. Receiving assistance in an emergency situation will not result in disqualification, but a penalty may be levied at the Race Marshall’s discretion. Use of a device to contact an un-approved number in a non-emergency situation will result in automatic disqualification.

Allowing unregulated use of two-way communication devices by Iditarod mushers changes the fundamental nature of the Iditarod. A private line of communication that cannot be policed is neither an efficient safety measure, nor does it ensure honest competition. Safety measures can and should be implemented without undermining the integrity and character of the race.

June 2nd, 2016

ITC Board of Directors,

This petition, signed by Iditarod mushers as well as members and fans of the mushing community, respectfully request the Iditarod Trail Committee Board of Directors to reconvene (prior to the official signups on June 25th, 2016 for the 2017 Iditarod), reconsider, and rewrite Rule 35 to incorporate the following points:

1. The use of two-way communication devices can ONLY be used in an emergency situation.

2. The ITC can accurately determine whether or not a musher has used a two-way communication device for purposes other than an emergency.

3. Mushers have the choice to carry a two-way communication device, but not be required to.

4. The ITC creates a 24-hour hotline or other official avenue to field emergency calls from mushers.

The purpose of rule 35 is to address safety concerns on the trail. However, allowing unrestricted two-way communication creates a situation in which there is no realistic way for coaching to be policed. Discussions on this issue within the mushing community have produced several practical solutions that allow for mushers to carry two-way communication devices without jeopardizing the enforcement of the ‘no coaching rule’.

The Reform Iditarod Rule 35 petition to Iditarod Trail Committee Board of Directors was written by Dallas Seavey and is in the category Sports at GoPetition.