Sonia O’Sullivan: Curious case of Sinéad Kane and the 24-hour race

Athletics Ireland should select her and request the IAU to allow her run for Ireland

What should it have been, red or yellow?

There will always be some grey areas in sport, just as there are in life. This is part of what makes sport so interesting and compelling, and people often have a different view when it comes to interpreting certain rules.

You just have to look back at last Sunday’s All-Ireland hurling final, and the discussion of whether or not Richie Hogan deserved to be given the red card and sent off, just before half time.

It felt and looked like an action that changed the whole course of the game for everyone; the players, the coaches, the spectators, the commentators and TV pundits.

All of sudden the focus was more on the subjective decision, and whether or not the foul deserved the punishment. If you look at things in black and white as the referee did, then you get the result we got; if you weigh things up and try to be more measured and rational then probably not.

In that case it comes down to the split second decision and the interpretation of the rules. It also makes you wonder is it time for the video assistant referee at Croke Park? Otherwise, the rules are mere guidelines, especially if a definitive decision cannot be reviewed and analysed to come to a clear decision at critical periods in a game.

You see it almost every day when out driving. Most people do follow the rules of the road, but so many people interpret these rules on their own terms. How far amber is the light before you definitely have to stop?

How many times have you stopped at the lights only to see two cars beside and behind you sail right through, just glad they were in the lane beside and not directly behind? What did they see, amber or red?

Just like rules in life there are so many rules in sport, only when you find yourself up against the rules are you forced to read the small print.

At a local competition, sometimes the rules can be interpreted leniently, using some common sense to help the sport and encourage the athletes involved.

For the IAAF, the governing body of world athletics, the rule book is another matter, and can be difficult to navigate.

There are the obvious technical rules of each event which are clearly black and white. Then there are those that are new to the book when it comes to dealing with athletes and the countries that they represent: everyone is considered equal, and yet there are certain cases that could clearly be interpreted differently and viewed as exceptions to the rule.

Marked track

It’s the same with the rules for monitoring athletes when it comes to drug testing, which are clearly open for debate and interpretation on a case-by-case basis.

One Irish athlete Sinéad Kane has found herself recently reading all the fine print in the IAAF rule book, trying to build a case where she can be allowed to run for Ireland and eligible to score on the team at the upcoming International Association of Ultrarunners (IAU) World Championship 24-hour race.

The IAU under the umbrella of the IAAF is governed by IAAF rules.

Sinéad has less than five per cent vision and as a result is in the visually impaired category for athletes with a disability. She also requires a guide to run alongside her in races. This hasn’t stopped Sinéad running marathons, ultrarunning events and even completing the seven marathons in seven continents in seven days in 2017.

For the past two years, Sinéad has been training and racing with the aim of qualifying for the World Championship 24-hour race, to be held in Albi, France, on October 26th and 27th.

The 24-hour event involves running around a marked track, sometimes just a 400m athletics track and covering as much distance as you can in the 24-hour period. Athletes are allowed to stop and eat or rest along the way but the more you rest the less distance you will be covering.

Sinéad covered 204.5km at an approved event in Birmingham in April, thus achieving the standard required to be eligible for selection to represent Ireland.

It seems that while it was widely known Sinéad was aiming to represent Ireland, it was only when she was not selected on the team the reasons whey were pointed out.

Sinéad would be running with a guide, which is not allowed in IAAF championship events, even though this is an IAU event; in turn this meant she could not run in the championship event, though she could still partake in the open event, run concurrently at the same venue. She would just not be running for Ireland or eligible to include her result in the team’s score.

Sinéad can wave the Irish flag but she is not being allowed to wear the Irish singlet and raise the standard even higher for athletes with disability competing in international events and representing their country.

It seems contradictory that Sinéad is allowed to compete in a number of qualifying events, achieve the qualifying standard yet not when it comes to the actual championship which is being held on a course that is not tight and could cope with just one pair running side by side. There should at least be more discussion and consideration to what appears to be an exception to the rule.

World stage

With just two months to go to the World Championships, there is not much time for manoeuvring. The least Athletics Ireland could do is select Sinéad, allow her to run, and in the weeks leading up to the championship put some pressure on the IAU to allow Sinéad to run for Ireland, as an exceptional case, as part of the selected team.

As much as Sinéad requires a guide to help her navigate the course safely, this is not a pacemaker aiding her to perform better; it’s just allowing her to perform equally on the world stage, as one of four Irish athletes qualified in an event that is likely to go unnoticed in mainstream media.

Yet this could be the biggest story for the IAU and the World Championship 24-hour race, with a positive outcome for all involved, rather than letting it become a negative battle.

It’s still not clear either why those in charge can’t find a little bit of grey in the black and white rule book.