Wed | Mar 21, 2018

Foster's Fairplay | More discretion needed from starters

Published:Tuesday | June 27, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Jonielle Smith (centre) wins heat two of the women's 100 metres ahead of Schillonie Calvert-Powell (right) and Ramone Burchell at the National Senior Championships at the National Stadium on Thursday.

Track and field continues to battle to arrive at a method to punish an athlete seeking an unfair advantage over a fellow competitor at the start of a race. The search for equal opportunity has yielded a contentious rule which declares, "one false start and you are out." In apportioning blame for the current dilemma, this rule is proving to be the culprit. Apart from the anxious crowds, the victims are those unfortunate athletes who simply would like to display their talents. Other race start versions have been tried and subsequently jettisoned mainly because of the precious television viewing time which was being eaten up by several 'sets and go's' which went nowhere as the call came to do it all over again.

One such occasion was played out during the semi finals of the women's 100m at the National Stadium last Friday. Foster's Fairplay is less concerned with the actual error that brought about the ejection of Jonielle Smith than it is with the ensuing trauma visited on the former high-school sprint champion when the verdict was given. This should not be seen as ignoring the rules in any given situation, but there is also provision for the starter to exercise discretion in a situation where the margins are on a knife's edge. From what was available on the playback, this seemed to have been the case with the Auburn University Junior.

Athletes in many circumstances undergo serious challenges as they strive through injuries and other setbacks to make it home for Trials and do themselves and their families proud. They deserve to be allowed whatever leeway the rules permit to achieve their legitimate objective. It should not be that their careers are sacrificed just so the country can be in the good books of those who, from elevated positions, cry out for that proverbial 'level playing field.'

Let it never be forgotten that there is that highly respected notion that justice should not only be done but must manifestly appear to have been done. Looking at the monitor that rehearsed the start of the controversial race, which was hotly disputed by the discerning spectators, how can it be honestly concluded that the decision to dismiss Smith was a just one?




The stadium track has witnessed a plethora of similar incidents in the recent past. The officials are sure to argue, in their defence, that the similarity is only in the eyes of those who take objection to the verdict. Some of these occurrences have ended in reinstatement of the athlete, others have gone the other way. Let there be consistency in the execution of the rules. Is it too much to ask that explanations be given as to what made the difference? Or is it that the sanctioned athlete simply has to 'hug it up' and it is business as usual thereafter.

Recent talk is that the absence of the 'Bolt factor' will signal loss of support for the sport. While the stakeholders seek ways to make up for this perceived shortfall, let them not countenance any action or lack of same which could weaken the impact that the passage of the legend has created.

Our athletes need to feel that their efforts to excel are not compromised by uncaring officials. This was not the case with Jonielle Smith. The hope is that after a few moments of reflection and counselling from her handlers, she will continue on the path that her obvious talent suggests, wiser for the experience.

The country needs her to return to the fray, stronger and ready to fight again.

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