When sport officials bend the rules

Saturday, March 17, 2018

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The bungling by officials at the Digicel Grand Prix/G C Foster Classics at the National Stadium last weekend has understandably attracted much criticism.

No one should have expected that the people responsible for the confusion would simply have been allowed to walk away without being hauled over the coals, for it is accepted that rules are made to be obeyed.

The meet, we are told, was fairly well-executed until the final race of the day spoiled everything and even left some fans booing.

Calabar High School's 4x400m team, which had set a world high school record of 3:05.04 minutes at the Corporate Area Development Meet only a few weeks before, were heavy favourites to win the final.

However, the first-leg runner false started, then stopped, while the other seven first-leg runners took off. Apparently angry at himself for his mistake, the Calabar athlete threw the baton to the ground.

What followed next was most surprising, as the starters failed to recall the race immediately. In fact, they only did so after the athletes had cleared about 150m. Our journalist at the meet reported that there was a huge huddle on the infield as the officials tried to come to a decision on what to do next.

Mr David Riley, head coach of Excelsior High track and field team, who was seen in heated discussions with officials, eventually withdrew his team in protest over the officials' decision to keep Calabar in the race.

Seven teams eventually contested the final, with Calabar winning.

Veteran track and field official Dr Carol Long correctly stated that the decision not to subject Calabar to the one-false-start-and-you-are-out rule has brought into question the credibility of the officials.

“We need to have transparency; as officials we have to act professionally and we need to own our own (mistakes),” she is reported as saying.

Olympian Mr Bertland Cameron was also angered by the episode and pointed to the fact that the other first-leg athletes in the event went back into the starting blocks with the disadvantage of having already run 150 metres. Therefore, in effect, Calabar was not penalised for breaking the rule.

We know it's a difficult call for officials the world over to apply the rules when star athletes are in breach.

We recall a lot of discussion around the one-false start rule after Mr Usain Bolt jumped the starter's gun and was disqualified from the final of the 100 metres at the 2011 World Championships in Daegu, South Korea.

That was a huge blow to world track and field, especially at a time when popularity was returning to the sport due to Mr Bolt's sheer brilliance and his endearing personality.

But, to his credit, Mr Bolt didn't complain about the rules. In fact, he has made it clear on more than one occasion that rules are to be respected.

What sporting officials, especially those on duty at school events, need to bear in mind is that they are setting poor examples for youngsters when they bend the rules.

We can just imagine the chaos that would ensue had that race last weekend been, say, the final event of the Boys' and Girls' Athletics Championships and its outcome would have decided the overall winner of that event.

Let us hope that Jamaica's track and field programme will not see a repeat of last week's fiasco.

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