Sun | Nov 29, 2020

Oral Tracey | Rules are rules, but at what cost?

Published:Monday | July 1, 2019 | 12:00 AM
Danielle Williams refuses to leave the track following an alleged false start in the women’s 100m hurdles finals at the JAAA/Supreme Ventures National Senior Athletics Championships at the National Stadium on Sunday, June 23.

It is pretty much the general consensus that the current version of the false-start rule in athletics is both unreasoned and unreasonable. The zero tolerance one-strike-and-you-are-out rule is not just unjust and irrational, but it is generally bad for the sport, especially the sprints, which it understandably affects more.

With that as a premise, I can now delve into what turned out to be the embarrassing and now spiralling fiasco involving 2015 100m hurdles World champion Danielle Williams. Opinions on this issue are generally split sharply between the self-righteous, self-serving sticklers for the rules and the rational, pragmatic realists.

The empathy and support for the disqualification of the athlete ranked No. 5 in the world and the No. 2 ranked Jamaican in the event is based rigidly in the fact that ‘the rule is the rule’ , but in defiance of that worn out cliché, it is important to note that at one point in the human experience, apartheid in South Africa was very much the rule, as was racial segregation in many jurisdictions across the world. If the likes of Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr had chosen to travel down the conformist and servile trajectory, the repressive system of apartheid would quite likely still be in place in South Africa, as would the policies of racial segregation.

The other salient point of reference must be the fact that despite the Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association (JAAA)/Supreme Ventures National Senior and Junior Athletics Championships essentially being trails for the selection of the various national teams, it is a Jamaican organised and staged event, manned by Jamaican officials with Jamaican athletes competing for the privilege to represent their country in international competition.

It is therefore quite befuddling that the former World champion, having transgressed so marginally, with reasonable explanation, is being chastised and almost crucified with such vicious finality by her very own countrymen. The chief starter, who just happens to be a senior official of the JAAA, entrusted with the requisite discretionary powers to simply apply some common and nationalistic sense to the situation, chose not to as the situation spiralled from an instance of simple human error to an elevated stage for self-aggrandisement and moral grandstanding.

Warning would have sufficed

One expert, in summing up the fiasco, admitted that the chief starter could, in his wisdom, and within the gambit of his legal authority, have simply warned the field and proceed for any of a hundred reasons, without any sanctions or consequences, instead of allowing the moment to disintegrate into a show of ego driven defiance in defence of the most ludicrous rule in all of sport.

This is not by any means a call for a blanket policy of giving all former World Champions or current star athletes an exemption from false starting. It is instead a call is for every such incident to be dealt with on its specific situational merit.

There are still vivid memories of a then emerging Usain Bolt blatantly false starting at the same Jamaican trails, as did Veronica Campbell-Brown at the top of her game. Both infractions were dealt with in the situation and in the moment with the application of prudent and simple common-sense as legally allowed. Neither the starter nor Jamaica was condemned, sanctioned, or punished for those decisions.

Again, and fundamentally, the event at the National Stadium last weekend was, by name, the National Championships, but its ultimate and most important function was that of selecting the nation’s best athletes for international competition based on performance and it ought not to have become a platform to prove the irony, that Jamaica is the moral capital of the world while we defend an unjust and inhumane rule.