Laurie Foster | Wrong move JAAA
The sour taste of the events surrounding the falsestart horror at the Supreme Ventures Limited/Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association (JAAA) National Senior and Junior Championships, almost two weeks ago, still lingers.
It all unfolded at a time when journalists covering the four-day spectacle, as well as the fans who attended or witnessed it through the electronic media, were about to sum up a well-executed event. This is not to say that the Danielle Williams mishap, and all that happened as a consequence, provided the only dark area of discontent. There were others, including statements from the governing body, which left Foster’s Fairplay uncomfortable, and which need to be addressed for future staging of any showcase of the nation’s elite athletes.
Let us look at the incident that brought about the disqualification for a false start of the former 100m hurdles world champion, who gained that title at the 2015 edition in Beijing. The chief starter, utilising the equipment that he or she controls, has supreme powers to rule as to whether or not a start is a fair one. The one in charge for the questioned race was the well-respected JAAA official, Ludlow Watts. It has been said that, as has been done in the past, athletes can be reinserted in races after falling afoul of this dreaded ‘one-strike-and-you-are-out’ rule.
Under fire to explain why that facility was not made available to Williams, Watts referred to the IAAF rule, which permits the false start forgiveness only if the equipment had malfunctioned. That seems feasible, but more should be said. Assuming that the senior official was not misquoted or underquoted, why was there not an added explanation to say what the situation was, and why name-brand athletes committing the same sin were allowed to rejoin the event? This revelation would go a far way to temper the feelings of double standards, which have been echoing around the track and field fraternity. There can be no question that Williams was in breach of the strongly contested rule, but it seems that the punishment could have been relaxed as there has been precedent.
Another consideration for an easement of sanction comes from the fact that many fans who were seated in the stands have mentioned that a popping sound was heard in that area prior to the legitimate sound of the starter’s pistol. One has to be careful here, as it is not known whether Williams cited that to strengthen her protest. However, it is felt that the conversation was strong enough for the starter to alter his ‘exit the race’ decision without losing face.
Having disqualified Williams, the starter called the remaining field together and sent the race off again. This attempt ended in sheer mayhem as all the contestants, excluding the world leader, Janeek Brown, were overcome at different stages by confusion and, as a result, did not complete the rerun. It was reported that the starter wanted to allow a 45-minute rest for them to compose themselves and go at it again. At this stage, the final decision was taken to declare the event null and void and resort to a boardroom process to select the three athletes who would be on the team to the Doha World Championships, come late September.
That said, it was announced that Williams would not be considered for selection by virtue of her disqualification. Foster’s Fairplay did not consult a lawyer, but it would seem that if the event was declared null and void after Sunday night’s mishaps, then all that happened then, including the disqualification, should be cancelled. One wonders if the IAAF rules speak to this, and if so, why were they not quoted on this occasion?
After all this, those who were following the case as closely as Foster’s Fairplay was, settled on the thought that Williams’ only hope for Doha rests in winning the Diamond League title. This would afford her a wild card entry invitation to her event. But, it now turns out, from a statement made to the press by the JAAA president, Dr Warren Blake, that this privilege is not guaranteed, as “the JAAA executive [would] have to meet and decide if they would accept the invitation on her behalf”.
Can anyone say why the governing body would not want to accept the IAAF offer, given that it is something for which the athlete worked and thoroughly deserves by virtue of the efforts put in to achieve it?
Does this not smack of some type of malice?
Is Williams being punished again after being booted at the championships, and this time for her admittedly untidy response to the race disqualification? Perhaps her reaction, although inexcusable, could have been born out of frustration and disappointment that after all the months of hard work and sacrifice, her world championships hopes had frittered away.
However one looks at it, Foster’s Fairplay sees the statement by the president as out of line with what the treatment of our athletes ought to be. This is close to or could even match the ingredients of double jeopardy.
Wrong move, JAAA, this needs to be revisited. No athlete should have to face this type of discrimination, notwithstanding that they may have transgressed.
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