[Letters] Examining the IAAF’s false-start rule

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[Letters] Examining the IAAF’s false-start rule

“An athlete, after assuming a full and final set position, shall not commence his start until after receiving the report of the gun. If, in the judgment of the starter or recallers, he does so any earlier, it shall be deemed a false start. Except in combined events, any athlete responsible for a false start shall be disqualified,” states the IAAF rule number 162.7.

It is this regulation that has seen big names on the track, including Olympic champion Christine Ohuruogu and former European champion Dwain Chambers, bowing out of their races here in Daegu. Eight athletes were forced to eat a humble pie by the end of the second day of the world’s biggest athletics championship.

But it was the expulsion of Usain Bolt, holder of the 100-meter world record, that instigated a near uproar across the gigantic stadium. Where I was seated, a few meters away from a group of Jamaican fans, I heard “tough words” of despondency. Some threw their hands up; others had their heads between their knees - dejected. I leave it to your guessing about what Bolt himself must have gone through. And of course, you watched the slow-motions replays on TV.

Consequently, many spectators, the majority of whom had bought the evening ticket to watch the fastest man on earth displaying his prowess, were equally frustrated. My Korean friend Kim Sung-eun had just yelled “unfair” two times before pondering about what the severe regulation really meant. You see, like Kim, most people cared less about the rule.

Well, jumping the gun has existed in track and field sporting as long as the history of athletics goes back in time. Even in swimming, “flying” has been observed for years and rules to check it have been introduced and modified. About four decades ago, technology assisting in major time and distance measurement in sports were heavily employed following complaints and suspicions of jumping the gun.

Back then, a number of athletes were known to deliberately take advantage of the few milliseconds prior to the gun blast in order to claim victory. Today, with the use of advanced technologies, the smallest of units can be determined in almost all the sporting events.

Though much of the scrutiny of the “one strike rule” followed Bolt’s failure to run his specialty, a rush to amend may send a wrong message to the athletes. In fact, it will be the height of betrayal if the rule will be changed solely because it disqualified Bolt. Lest you mistake me, I am not for the rule either. I dare say it must be reviewed because it deprives sportsmen and women their humanity.

I know others have argued that rules are rules. Fine. I will add that rules in competitions are fundamental for their credibility and fairness. In Africa, we have a saying that, “law is like a saw, it cuts fore and back.” It emphasizes the notion that a rule is as fair as it is applicable everyone equally.

Others have claimed that Bolt, a seasoned athlete, should have known better. A question begs: What happened to “man is to err?”

Humans beings are created with emotions, nervousness, muscle contractions and put all these together under pressure, you do not get a robot but still a human being - capable of making blunders and deserving a second chance.

And even robots, a creation of man, made out of the best of technologies, are genuinely given a benefit of error margins.

Imposing a one-chance rule is tantamount to wanting perfect humans. Is it possible?

*Letters and commentaries for publication should be addressed “Letters to the Editor.” E-mailed letters should be sent to eopinion@joongang.co.kr.

Benson Kamary, a freelance journalist and the secretary general of the Kenya Community in Korea
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