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IAAF False Start Rule Rips Athletes of Their True Being
By Benson Kamary
Associate Editor & Writer
Usain Bolt

“An athlete, after assuming a full and final set position, shall not commence his start until after receiving the report of the gun. If, in the judgment of the starter or recallers, he does so any earlier, it shall be deemed a false start. Except in combined events, any athlete responsible for a false start shall be disqualified”, thus says the IAAF rule number 162.7.

It is the above tenet that has seen big names on track including Christine Ohuruogu, Olympic champion, and Dwain Chambers, former European champion, bowing out of their races here in Daegu. Eight athletes were forced to eat a humble pie by the end of the second day of the world’s biggest athletics championships. But it was the expulsion of the 100 meter world record holder Usain Bolt that instigated a near uproar across the gigantic stadium. Where I was seated, few meters away from a group of Jamaican fans, I heard “tough words” of despondency. Some threw their hands up; others had their heads between their knees – dejected. I leave it to your guessing about what Bolt himself must have gone through. And of course you watched the slow-motions on TV.

Consequently many spectators, majority of whom had bought the evening ticket to watch the fastest man on earth displaying his prowess, were equally frustrated. My Korean friend Kim Sung-eun, had just yelled “unfair” two times before pondering about what the severe regulation really meant. You see, like Kim, most people cared less about the rule. In fact, I sat with Sung-eun Chambers shown a red card. He walked out slowly amid consolation cheering including my pal Kim. But thanks to Bolt, for after his incident many of us begun scrutinizing this “crazy” rule introduced in 2010.

Well, jumping the gun has existed in track and field sporting as long as the history of athletics goes back in time. Even in swimming "flying" as others prefer calling it, has been observed for years and rules to check it have been introduced or modified severally.

About four decades ago, technology assisting in major time and distance measurement in sports were heavily employed following complains and suspicions of jumping the guns. Back then, a number of athletes were known to deliberately taking advantage of few milliseconds prior to the gun blast in order to claim victory. Today, with high technological input, the smallest of units can be determined in almost all the sporting events.

Some analysts are reading pressure from economic rationalist broadcasting media as the prologue of the “one strike rule.” Big broadcasting firms and their barons who also happen to be indispensable clientele and or sponsors of major sporting events are said to abhor any delays that chock up into their viewer’s attention span. In short, appetite over economic gain in the side of broadcasters may have denied athletes a medal. Oh, and viewers their joy as well.

Though much of the scrutiny to the “one strike rule” followed Bolt’s failure to run his specialty, a rush to amend may send a wrong message to the athletes. In fact it will be the height of betrayal if the rule will be changed solely because it disqualified Bolt. Lest you mistake me, I am not for the rule either. I dare say it must be reviewed because it deprives sportsmen and women their humanity.

I know others have argued that rules are rules. Fine. I will add that rules in competitions are fundamental for their credibility and fairness. In Africa, we have a saying that, “law is like a saw, it cuts fore and back.” It emphasizes the notion that a rule is as fair as it is applicable everyone equally. Others have claimed that Bolt, a seasoned athlete, should have known better. A question begs; what happened to “man is to err?”

Humans beings are created with emotions, nervousness, muscle contractions and put all these together under pressure, you do not get a robot but still a human being – capable of making blunders and deserving a second chance. And even robots, a creation of man, made out of the best of technologies, are genuinely given a benefit of error margins.

Imposing a one chance rule is tantamount to wanting perfect humans. Is it possible?

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Benson Kamary, professor of Tongmyong University in Pusan, serves as an Associate Editor & Writer for The Seoul Times. Based in Busan, South Korea, the Kenyan professor also serves as chairman of Kenya Community in Korea (KCK). He can be reached at






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