I have read that the IAAF council will meet this week to discuss the ‘false start rule.’ I would like to make a few suggestions to the chairman of that meeting.
If I were the chairman, there are two fundamental questions that I would have answered at the meeting. First, why are we having this meeting and secondly what were the reasons for the last two changes in the rules. In several boards and committees that I have sat on, I have had to defend the non-changing of an existing rule. Too often there is much public outcry for the change of a rule because of the effect it has had in one particular circumstance or to one individual. It is therefore necessary to investigate whether this is a peculiar circumstance and it would never happen again, or the possibility exists that it can be repeated many times and have the same unacceptable effect. Similarly, it must be determined if it happened only because of who the person is and would not affect anyone else or it can affect many in the future.
Let us look at why this meeting is being held. It is being held because one of athletics big stars (the biggest of all), false started and was not allowed to run in a stellar event at the championships. Usain Bolt is indeed why several patrons came to the stadium, why several fans of athletics turned on their televisions, tuned in to their radios or paid for live coverage on the internet. Without these people watching the event, there would be no need to put on the meet. When this rule started to have its effect on meets, the opposition warned that we will see the effect of the error in implementing this rule, when a big star moves before the gun. Their darkest fears have come to pass. Millions of people were disappointed and they just didn’t like what happened.
Why was the rule changed from what it was originally. Every athlete in the race was allowed to have one false start and they would be disqualified after the second. This was changed to allowing one false start in the race and any athlete who moved before the gun after that would be disqualified. The answer I understand, was to facilitate the media and in particular the television schedules.
There were not as many complaints when it was changed the first time. However, the cries of opposition went out after the second. There are some who felt that it was after Jon Drummond took so long to leave the field after he was deemed to have false started, that the rule was changed to the zero tolerance version. What was needed in that case was an enforcer of the rule and not a change.
I am therefore asking the council to make sure they have exhausted all the scenarios which can present in order to make an informed decision. This is a spectator sport. the media would not be interested if nobody wants to watch. People will watch a high jumper or a pole vaulter hit the bar twice at each height. People will watch the long jumper and the triple jumper get three chances to make it right. People were watching when the rules were not changed. They are not interested in watching the finals of a marquee event without their favourite stars. Even those who display superhuman performances most of the time, expose their human traits some of the times.
I hope that the IAAF will consider all the points mentioned above. If at the end the decision is to keep the current rule, then athletes performing in sprint events, especially at the highest level, will pay attention not only to the fitness of their body and the swiftness of their feet, but to the mental toughness required to maintain their focus at the start of the event. After all, a false start is largely due to a lack of concentration.