Wed | May 24, 2017

Revisit false-start rule for Champs

Published:Tuesday | March 31, 2015 | 3:00 AMDr Paul Wright
Athletes react at the start of the Boys’ 100 metres heats at the Inter-Secondary Schools’ Sports Association/GraceKennedy Boys & Girls’ Athletic Championships at the National Stadium.

Champs is over. Calabar High School and Edwin Allen High School's girls have fulfilled the predictions of experts and the expectations of students, teachers, coaches and fans. Congratulations are in order for the time spent in training and perfecting technique born of talent that results in victory.

The interest in Champs is worldwide, as exemplified by the sold-out crowds on the last two days of this amazing five-day extravaganza. The electronic and written media have cashed in on this athletic spectacle, and because of this, sponsors literally can't wait to be associated with Champs. Therefore, Champs is a win-win game. Everybody wins: the participants, the fans, the schools and the coaching staff. But we know that the reality is that there are losers. The question is: What happens to the losers?

Champs is the annual culmination of months of preparation and participation in development meets. It is an athletic competition for children. Yes, children. Not small adults. Girls compete in Class Four, wherein 12-year-olds begin competing in front of 36,000 people; and for the Boys' Class Three, where the spotlight is shone on the first three places in all events, boys who will become the future of Jamaica's athletic endeavours.

 

Have fun

 

We are regaled repeatedly by the advice of coaches of many sports, to their charges just before competition: "Have fun!"

But can a child have fun when he or she (or an entire relay squad) is disqualified for an inadvertent shift of weight on a starting block?

In the beginning, athletes were disqualified for a false start when it was obvious that the athlete tried to gain an unfair advantage by cheating, trying to start a race before his/her competitors.

Athletes were disqualified after three false starts, later reduced to two, and still later reduced to any athlete who tried to gain an unfair advantage after any athlete had false-started previously.

The input of modern technology able to identify the decrease of pressure on the starting block when an athlete is making an attempt to start before a competitor, along with high-definition slow-motion video replays, is now able to identify 'cheaters' with the resultant penalty - disqualification.

At present, one twitch and you are out. The economic cost of delay in the electronic transmission of a global athletic event forced the organisers of televised events to introduce the rule where one 'twitch' and you are out. It's a harsh penalty, one that caused a mass walkout by fans at an athletic event where the world's favourite athlete, Usain Bolt, was disqualified from a final.

 

experienced athlete

 

The race continued and the disqualified athlete came back later to continue his domination of rivals with little or no psychological damage. But Bolt is an experienced adult, who was/is well aware of the consequences of a false start.

Consider the case of a child at Champs, who is selected to start a relay for his/her team, in an event where none of the participants could have competed at Champs in any other event (the sprint medley relay). He/she is drawn in an outside lane that is close to a section of the stands, where literally thousands of fans are screaming and blowing the annoying vuvuzuelas, he/she, nervous as can be expected, does not remember that a raised hand can cause the starter to delay the start of the race until quiet is obtained, and in their anxiousness, move forward before the starter's gun is fired.

What is gained by disqualifying the athlete? Who wins, who loses if we can only be guided by the undeniable fact that Champs is designed for children who are supposed to "have fun"?

I am not for one moment suggesting a pardon for the child who tries to cheat by gaining an unfair advantage - starting before his/her opponents. I am suggesting that the cheating child can be identified using the same technology that identified a 'twitch' and the rules be changed in recognition of the fact that these championships are designed for children having fun.

Finally, congratulations are in order for the victorious children interviewed on television and on radio. Their ability to articulate reasonable responses is a great improvement from previous years. Our successful children athletes are beginning to understand the importance of a holistic education, recognising that skill at sports without skill at English will lead to a post-sport life of struggle, even if money 'nuff'.