The recent IAAF World Championships in Daegu threw up plenty of talking points; with the London Olympics looming there was intrigue and anticipation in abundance. All that, however, was rather overshadowed by one jumbo hot topic. Yes folks, it is time for The Journal to throw in its tuppence-worth on the false-start rule.
Indignation was aroused to some extent by the earlier disqualifications of the popular Christine Ohuruogu and (perhaps less-so) Dwain Chambers due to false starts. That was never going to be enough though. In a sport so apparently stubborn as athletics, a campaign to get a ridiculous rule overturned would need a real poster boy; it is fair to say that Usain Bolt more than fills that capacity.
Part of the reason why the older, established false-start rule (each athlete allowed one false start of their own) was changed was the demands of television stations, as some races suffered chronic delays through multiple false starts. But I wonder what the television stations made of a World Championships 100m final with the title-defending, world-record-holding favourite suddenly out of the running – in a race already shorn of so many of this year’s star men, through doping bans and injuries. How great an anti-climax; how loud the sound of millions of televisions flicking the channel over in unison.
In a sporting sense, the current false-start rule has been trumpeted as the solution to gamesmanship. The likes of Steve Cram have come out in support of it for that very reason, with a general ‘rules-are-rules’ tone – dismissing it as part and parcel of the race rather than any serious problem. Quite what an ex-runner of the 1500m knows about exploding out of the blocks is open to speculation, but even though Usain Bolt himself admitted sole responsibility for his false start – calling it “a lesson” – that does not mean that the rule is not harsh.
Walter Dix and Kim Collins – who finished second and third in this 100m final respectively, thus profiting most from Bolt’s absence – lead a not insignificant line of athletes who want the rule changed back. Ultimately, if athletes are determined to try mind games then they will find a way whatever the rules are. We may as well accept that and return to the sanity of a system which doesn’t punish the merest indiscretion with disqualification.
The harshest injustice of all those that this false-start rule has wrought is that nobody is discussing the arrival of another serious contender on the men’s sprint scene, Yohan Blake – a sprint scene never more so than now overflowing with world-class talent. Everyone needs to stop talking rules and start watching the races, but the current false-start rule is hugely obstructive in that respect.