Guinness World Records is a global authority in the complex realm of record-breaking achievements. The initiative is only partially immune to ethical shortcomings. Hilda Baci’s recent record-breaking attempt offers an opportunity to peer into what makes a world record ‘official’ according to Guinness
Imagine running for 100 miles, setting what you consider a world record, and then finding out it doesn’t count. That was the experience of American professional ultrarunner, Camille Herron. Last year, Heron completed the race in 12 hours 41 minutes 11 seconds, a whole minute faster than her own world record of 12:42:40, which she set in 2017.
Of course, like all world records, Herron’s ‘record’ underwent an extensive review process to become official. The course was remeasured in February 2022 and again in October 2022. It was determined that the course had been slightly altered and was short by 716 feet. As a result, a USA Track & Field committee decided not to ratify the record.
Fast forward to 2023; another record is on the verge of being broken. This time, it is not 100 miles, but 100 straight hours of cooking, a feat recently accomplished by Nigerian chef, Hilda Baci. Upon writing, Baci’s record remains unofficial. Approval from the Guinness World Records team can take up to twelve weeks but could be expedited by the Guinness Priority Evidence Review service. Like Herron, Baci will have to await the outcome of a process that, in the end, could disqualify her amazing feat.
Baci’s processes to receive official recognition prompt a critical exploration of potential biases in the Guinness World Records. How does the process really work? What determines a record being new, official, and accurate? Understanding what happens after a record is ‘unofficially’ broken can shed light into the potential biases and ethical considerations for Guinness World Records moving forward.
VERIFICATION OR IT DIDN’T HAPPEN
The process of record initiation is a comprehensive sequence designed to maintain the integrity of the Guinness World Records. Guinness initiates the process through idea validation, where a proposed record is compared against existing records. This validation ensures novelty, as the proposed record must be unique and distinguishable. It also needs to conform to the record guidelines, which state that a record should be measurable, breakable, standardizable, verifiable, and universal.
Once a record idea is validated, it enters the verification process, where individuals must provide extensive proof of requirements for the claim. It includes videos or photos of the attempt, two independent witness statements, a logbook, and more. The purpose is to eliminate any room for doubt, ensuring that each record is objectively verifiable.
An integral part of the application process is the Priority Evidence Review service. This service, available at a cost of £350 / $550 US / €440 (plus VAT where applicable), offers a fast-tracked evidence review for applicants eager to confirm their achievements. The quicker turnaround, however, has implications. While it may expedite a record holder’s official recognition, it might also foster bias by granting privilege to those who can afford the fee. For Ms. Baci, this comes out to be approximately ₦415,250 using the black market rate.
The combination of meticulous validation and verification processes, adherence to strict guidelines, and proof requirements are crucial in ensuring the credibility and universality of each record while also managing potential bias in the system. It remains essential for Guinness World Records to continually reevaluate these processes, preserving the integrity and inclusiveness of this historic institution.
HILDA BACI’S PENDING RECORD
On 02 April 2023, Nigerian gastronomic virtuoso and entrepreneur, Hilda Baci (née Hilda Effiong Bassey), proclaimed her intent to rewrite the Guinness annals for the most protracted individual cooking marathon. Aiming to outdo the existing record by Indian culinary artist, Lata Tandon, Baci disclosed a meticulously charted five-year plan.
Baci’s audacious bid to break the Guinness World Record for the longest cooking marathon by an individual now hinges on two main factors: firstly, the perseverance and dedication she already exhibited by planning and executing a non-stop cooking marathon for over 100 hours. Secondly, her ability to comply with the extensive validation process set by the Guinness World Records. However, the latter component represents the system’s potential vulnerability to bias. The Guinness World Records, while priding itself on its meticulous verification procedure, implicitly expects participants to have substantial resources at their disposal to document their attempts accurately and submit a comprehensive evidence package.
Although the Guinness World Records have acknowledged Baci’s attempt, it is yet to be confirmed as the official new record. Herein lies a subtle bias. The records management team can take up to 12 weeks to evaluate the submitted documentation. This duration could dissuade individuals with limited resources who cannot afford the Priority Evidence Review service, which guarantees a five-day turnaround but comes at a significant fee. This factor may skew the field in favour of participants who can afford this expedited review, revealing a socio-economic bias in the system.
However, Baci’s story might challenge the system’s potential bias. She hails from Nigeria, a country that, despite its economic constraints, has witnessed its citizens secure remarkable world records. Baci follows in the footsteps of Nigerians such as Stephen Keshi, Bayo Omoboriowo, and Ayodeji Balogun (Wizkid), demonstrating that, while the system may seemingly favour those with resources, determined individuals can still break barriers.
The global acknowledgment and anticipation that Baci’s attempt has generated could push the Guinness World Records to review its procedures and reconsider whether the substantial fees associated with the Priority Evidence Review service could be adjusted or waived for deserving candidates.
NIGERIANS FOR BACI
The remarkable story of Hilda Baci’s cooking marathon and the nationwide support she received illuminates the importance of public endorsement in record-setting endeavours. When an individual undertakes a challenge with the magnitude of Baci’s attempt, they transcend personal boundaries, symbolically taking on their supporters’ hopes, aspirations, and pride. This collective spirit was evident in Baci’s pursuit of the Guinness World Record. Nigerians viewed her success as a joint victory, effectively validating the phrase ‘Baci’s win is our win.’
Her story is a testament to the power of collective morale and unity in achieving monumental tasks. While Baci’s discipline and preparation were critical to her achievement, the overwhelming support she received from Nigerians, both on the ground and online, was as crucial. Her success demonstrated the essential role of public support in propelling individuals to exceed their limits and accomplish their goals.
In a broader context, the nationalistic sentiment that the Nigerian public associated with Baci’s record-breaking attempt influenced its perception and acceptance. It morphed from an individual striving for personal recognition to a symbol of national pride. The widespread support Baci received from various quarters, including the government, celebrities, and everyday Nigerians, exemplifies the ability of unifying causes to bridge societal gaps. Moreover, this shared endeavour allowed the Nigerian people to showcase their cultural wealth through food, reinforcing their national identity globally. Baci’s feat transcended individual accomplishment and served as a platform to celebrate Nigerian cuisine’s uniqueness and diversity.
It is evident that public reaction and support play a significant role in the perception and acceptance of new records. As in Baci’s case, a single individual’s feat becomes a shared victory, strengthening social bonds, fostering national pride, and encouraging resilience and ambition. Baci’s attempt and the public reaction underline the profound interconnectedness of personal achievement and collective celebration.
THE TURKMENISTAN CAKE INCIDENT
Guinness World Records is a global authority in the complex realm of record-breaking achievements. The initiative is only partially immune to ethical shortcomings. Questions arise surrounding selection, adjudication, and representation of records: Is every achievement highlighted for human exceptionalism? Are certain regions and countries more prominently featured? Exploring the potential bias in Guinness World Records allows us to examine the fairness and inclusivity of the platform.
It is important to examine its selection processes, criteria, and decision-making to ensure that it remains a genuinely equitable catalogue of human achievement. The ensuing dialogue may lead to necessary changes to foster a more balanced representation of global accomplishments. While Baci awaits her official moment, the review process for her record offers an opportunity to peer into what makes a world record ‘official’ according to Guinness.
Established in 1955 the Guinness World Records has long been viewed as a light-hearted initiative highlighting human accomplishments, whether feats of physical endurance, ingenuity, or oddities. However, recent incidents such as the one discussed in the 2019 article, ‘John Oliver Takes on the Guinness World Records After Turkmenistan Cake Incident,’ raise important questions about the potential ethical concerns associated with the records-keeping organization. The debate focuses on whether Guinness inadvertently gives publicity and legitimacy to questionable characters and whether it incentivizes dangerous or harmful behaviour in pursuit of records.
The Turkmenistan cake incident of 2019 highlighted by the host of American television show, Last Week Tonight, John Oliver, involves Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, the president of Turkmenistan, who has been accused of human rights abuses and autocratic rule. Despite the controversy surrounding him, Berdimuhamedov was recognized by Guinness World Records for a giant cake representing a book he had written. The criticism is that this recognition granted Berdimuhamedov undeserved positive publicity and essentially overlooked his controversial leadership.
This situation raises the question of whether Guinness World Records indirectly supports or enables autocrats, dictators, or those implicated in human rights abuses by giving them a platform for favourable publicity. Providing such individuals with further means to propagate their public image is unethical without acknowledging their controversial actions. Moreover, it may legitimize their leadership in the eyes of some observers, potentially reinforcing their power.
A NEW WORLD RECORD…PENDING REVIEW
Ms. Baci’s experience and her awaiting official recognition prompts a critical exploration of potential biases in the Guinness World Records. The organization’s worldwide acclaim is not devoid of ethical inquiries—a case in point being the Turkmenistan cake incident.
The record-setting process behind the Guinness World Records is rigorous, scrutinizing each application through multiple validation and verification steps. However, this meticulous system isn’t free from potential bias. For instance, the Priority Evidence Review service which favours those who can afford the expedited process.
Nevertheless, Baci’s story offers hope, demonstrating that grit and creativity can overcome structural challenges. The public’s role in Baci’s attempt was considerable. Her overwhelming support from Nigerians magnified her quest for a symbolic national victory. This shared accomplishment became a showcase of national pride and unity, testifying to the power of public endorsement.
Ultimately, while the Guinness World Records’ process may exhibit potential biases due to resource-heavy requirements and long review times, stories like Baci’s showcase the capability to transcend these limitations. Furthermore, such narratives might spur the organization to revisit its policies, fostering a more balanced, transparent, and fairer system. The world records system should strive to truly encapsulate the essence of human achievement, accessible to all, regardless of socio-economic standing⎈
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