Sonia O’Sullivan: Sport is the loser if basic rules ignored

Two ridiculous decisions show how much work the IAAF has to do to rebuild trust

David Rudisha: the race in Shanghai  was allowed to continue in farcical circumstances, but Rudisha   faded to fifth. Photograph: Marcio Machado/Getty Images

David Rudisha: the race in Shanghai was allowed to continue in farcical circumstances, but Rudisha faded to fifth. Photograph: Marcio Machado/Getty Images

 

There must be a few nervous athletes around these days who are not sure whether they will get to compete in Rio if we are to believe this week’s report from the International Olympic Committee (IOC). 

I say “if” because it’s hard to know how this will unfold, although it appears that 31 athletes, from six different Olympic sports, who were potentially set to compete in Rio, now won’t be there. They are facing bans after samples taken in Beijing, eight years ago, were retrospectively tested and now proven to contain illegal performance enhancing substances. 

There may be more revelations when another 250 samples will be retested from London 2012, with findings due by the end of the month.

Most people still put on a negative spin on stories like this, but I see it as more of a positive, good news for the Olympics. The message is getting out that athletes who cheat or think about cheating will be found out. Even if these revelations continue to cast a shadow over many Olympic sports, they also offer hope the authorities have finally realised the need to save sport as we know it. Without that trust, the belief in what we see will continue to be eroded.

Integrity in sport

This was a finger-pointing question at the authorities who have allowed sport to lose credibility and not just when it comes to doping. Their trust is being questioned in other areas too, as integrity in sport is not all about cheating athletes; it’s also about implementing the rules of sport. 

All sport begins at the grassroots level, children in school sports and club teams. A lot of the time the implementers of the rules are parents, school teachers and other mentors. I know because I’ve been there and it’s not an easy job. For example, I’ve often been put in a position where I have to stand at the 800m break line, where the athletes cut into lane one, and it’s my responsibility to wave the red flag if any of the young runners cut in early. 

Second Captains

Nobody wants to be cruel, but tough decisions have to be made. When you have a job like that you do your best to make the right decision and apply the rules. 

Instead, there were examples of those rules not being applied in the opening two meetings of the IAAF Diamond League, the showcase of athletics outside of the Olympics and World Championships. 

It’s very hard for most athletes to even get a starting place in the Diamond League, which takes in 14 meetings each year in 12 countries, with athletes accumulating points along the way towards outright event winners at the end of the season. Every point matters.

In the first meeting, in Doha, Qatar, there was an incident early on in the men’s 1500m where Australian Ryan Gregson was tripped up. He got back up and sprinted after the field but it was too late. Considering the speed at which the lead athletes were moving, it was impossible to rejoin the race, and with that went the entire purpose of his being there: to try to achieve an Olympic qualifying time. 

Anyone who has a basic involvement with athletics will know that if an athlete falls in the first 50m, the race is recalled and restarted. I certainly would have done it if I was standing there with the red flag. Instead, the rule was essentially ignored, and there wasn’t any apology, nor any acknowledgement of the mistake. 

It shouldn’t happen at school level, let alone at the Diamond League – particularly as it seemed there was a second gun fired, indicating the race is to be stopped. The least that should have happened was the race results were annulled. It was a long way for Gregson to travel only to end up on the ground, without being given a chance to compete, due to the lack of implementation of one of the most basic rules of track and field.

When the Diamond League moved on to Shanghai on Saturday, there was an even more shocking incident at the start of the men’s 800m. The athletes were waiting around as an official appeared to be holding up the race due to some high jumpers running in off the track. Several athletes were actually facing the wrong way, including the pacemaker, who was in the lane outside Kenya’s David Rudisha, the current Olympic champion and world record holder.

Comical results

Again, the result was allowed to stand and the Diamond League points awarded, when quite clearly rules had been broken. If this had happened in any other sport there would almost certainly have been some repercussions, but instead the IAAF appeared happy to let it go. 

IAAF president Seb Coe has been talking a lot about restoring faith in the sport and making it more attractive to spectators, not just when it comes to doping. If the basic rules can’t be implemented or at least noticed, Coe may have a bit further to go in restoring that integrity.

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