Idea of running across Vietnam sparks controversy

By Quynh Chi, Pham Du   January 28, 2024 | 02:00 am PT
Debate sparked among the marathon community when Nguyen Van Long's idea of running across Vietnam was strongly opposed by former Ho Chi Minh City District 1 chairman Doan Ngoc Hai.
Nguyen Van Long (blue glasses) is accompanied by runners in Gia Lai Province during his journey of running across Vietnam in 2022. Photo by Facebook/Nguyen Van Long

Nguyen Van Long (3rd, L) is accompanied by runners in Gia Lai Province in the central highlands during his journey of running across Vietnam in 2022. Photo by Facebook/Nguyen Van Long

Long ran across Vietnam to raise charity funds in 2022. He said that the journey raised VND400 million (US$16,260) for children in difficult circumstances. After completing the run, the marathon community gave him the nickname "mutant" for his unique feat.

However, when Long planned to do so again on April 11 this year, former HCMC District 1 chairman Ngoc Hai opposed the idea. Hai is also an amateur runner, who has sponsored several athletes and fundraising programs. He was also the main man behind the drive to clean up Ho Chi Minh City's sidewalks in 2017, with a pledge to turn it into a "Little Singapore." He resigned in 2018 saying his campaign collided with businesses that had million-dollar interests on the sidewalks.

On Facebook, Hai wrote a letter to chairman of National Traffic Safety Committee chairman Khuat Viet Hung, requesting that Long not be allowed to run across Vietnam because he's concerned about traffic safety.

Hai said running along the national highway is dangerous as there's no guide or warning vehicle.

"Every time Long reaches a province, hundreds of runners follow him and they run on the highway. This is extremely dangerous, especially when there's an incident like a sleepy driver," he wrote.

Hai asked Hung to coordinate with local authorities to stop Long's journey before it starts.

Hai's point of view received mixed reception in the running community. Many people suspect that Hai did this because he has a personal conflict with Long and his protest was not related to safety issues on the highway. Long then made a post criticizing a man named H, without specifically calling out Hai.

Runner Ngo Thi Cam Anh, a member of the Gia Lai Marathon Club, which Long also belongs to, said: "I can’t say that Long's running journey across Vietnam doesn’t affect traffic. However, his running time is usually in early morning or early afternoon. If Long runs alone, or with one or two more people, it’s fine. But if he runs with a large group of people, then we need to reconsider."

According to Cam Anh, a running journey across Vietnam is arduous, and the community's act of running together is contagious. Therefore, although Cam Anh believes that it’s impossible to prevent people from running together, she admits that there need to be regulations that denote running in a large group should only take place in certain areas and not on highways.

"There is no law that prohibits a person from running on the highway. If there’s no separate lane for runners, then that’s a problem for the traffic system, not the runners. Long also cannot prohibit people from joining him for the run," another runner commented.

Long, 38, said he decided to repeat the journey of running across Vietnam because he wanted to "fulfill the mission of spreading the value of running as an athlete." He added that he was upset because photos of him and his family were posted online by Hai.

"I think every Vietnamese has the right to run anywhere in the country, as long as they don’t violate the law. As for traffic safety, in my first time running across Vietnam, there was always an escort vehicle behind me, and a motorbike next to me to ensure safety. Everyone who joined me was also told to run in the allowed area and carefully reminded about safety."

According to lawyer Tran Ngoc Thach, currently there’s no specific law that prohibits one from running across Vietnam. Therefore, citizens are allowed to do what the law doesn’t prohibit. However, runners must comply with the provisions of the traffic law, as they have to follow the rules for pedestrians. Thach said that "joggers who comply with traffic regulations will not be prohibited by the law."

A traffic police officer in Hanoi said that runners and pedestrians will not be strictly prohibited in time or space but must comply with traffic rules. Anyone who violates the rules when running, such as going on the wrong side of the road, not following orders, signs and road markings will be given a warning or receive a fine from VND50,000 to 60,000 ($2.03 to 2.44). The fine increases to VND60,000 to 80,000 when joggers carry big objects that obstruct traffic or cross the median strip. Anyone who walks on the highway without a duty will be fined from VND80,000 to 120,000.

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