How long would a rugby player last in a game if he didn’t know the rules?

Not more than ten minutes I would guess, and its unlikely to be much different for soccer, hockey, netball and most other sports…. So why is it that runners feel able to go into road running without learning the rules of the sport?

Running is said to be the simplest of sports, requiring only shoes, shorts, top and off we go:  anywhere we basically want at whatever speed, and on whatever terrain we wish!

If everyone is honest and trustworthy then we don’t even require officials: As long as we have the same start and finish line we can race and if we are honest –except in exceptionally short and tight races we know who won and lost amongst ourselves.

But this doesn’t give us any comparative performance until we set the distance, have a time keeping system and a line judge for when it is too close, (and we are too focused), to call.

And this is where the rules commence:

Why Rules Exist:

Athletic rules generally provide the process, structure and standard that ensure performances are comparable around the world. In essence there are five reasons for having rules:

If a rule does not meet one or more of these criteria then there is a need to review the rule to understand the purpose.

Most rules exist because others HAVE cheated:

The rules of athletics are generally covered by the IAAF (International Association of Athletic Federations) and are contained in a 313-page handbook which is valid for 2 years at a time and has a total of 264 rules each with a number of clauses.

That seems like a massive number, but in reality, the growth in rules results from previous attempts to cheat or do something in a way that bypasses the standard procedure.

This is clearly highlighted: 85 pages concern Doping:  9 new pages purely on Disputes  and Discipline:  compared with a total of 30 for all track races, hurdle heights, positons, lane draws, starting etc: only an additional 5 for race walking, 4 for Road running, 7 for XC and Trail and 30  Pages explain the roles and requirements for 32 different types of officials that may be required across all disciplines:

Even explaining the rules, equipment, and procedures for 7 complex Field events takes around 60 pages, only 2/3rds of the number required compared to the number to prevent and discipline those athletes wishing to cheat by gaining unfair advantage.

The challenge is not the sport, but rather those who seek to undermine it.

Cheating exists at all levels:

By example: March to May is a key time in South African road running, with many focused on gaining qualification and running Old Mutual Two Oceans, and Comrades:  People would be surprised at how many, and the level of runners and even ‘accredited’ sport personalities that cheat the system

Take what appears to be a simple action of giving someone your chip, or entry for a race like Oceans, (without going through the substitution process).

May seem innocent enough, but how many rules does it break?

Clearly the result will be incorrect, as the performance will be to another name: Will that performance be used for an entry / seeding at Comrades?

What happens if it affects the age prizes?

Does that delay prize giving as the person is spotted – In a small event the incorrect person may even get the award ahead of others.

Such things, particularly when overlooked, ruin the credibility of the results particularly in big events such as Oceans, Loskop, comrades where people pride themselves on honest achievement.

Keep in mind its two runners who have cheated in such a case: The one who gave the number and the one who received and there is no place in the sport for either.

When the simplest of actions has major impact: 

It can be downright dangerous as Oceans organizers found out a few years ago, when an overseas runner passed on his number.

The recipient collapsed, and passed away, over the line. The subsequent medical and administrative actions were based on the details of the original runner, which saw the parents being called internationally to be told of the passing of their son. Imagine that trauma – but luckily the son was watching the streaming of the race with the parents and that was when the cheating was identified.

Had the other athlete been unconscious he would have been treated based on incorrect medical files.

The point is many runners do not have a full appreciation for why the rules are there, but they exist for one of the five reasons above, and they protect us.

Rules provide world wide comparison of performance:

The rule allows comparison of performance and fairness throughout the world, with the IAAF rules at the top of the Hierarchy. Then national Federations are allowed modifications to cater for local conditions and circumstances, and then in South Africa we have provincial rules for the same reason.

For example the IAAF require refreshment in a road race at 5km intervals: ASA require 3km intervals, and the KZN rules required 2.5km intervals putting 3 tables into a 10km where the IAAF don’t require a table at all.

Local and National rules can be more restrictive, but not less than the IAAF which are the base.

Rules also protect investors in the sport:

The recent ASA ruling on Licensing and display of race and license number generated considerable concern.

Many runners did not appreciate that a sponsor may be putting millions in to have the exposure of their name on every athlete, so with the plethora of race numbers and timing bibs, the sponsor was not getting the exposure they paid for.

In addition, a percentage of runners were ‘free-loading’ in the sport by sharing or not buying license numbers. These cheats forced an inconvenient rule but one that again relates not only to marketing, finance, database accuracy, and communication, but also safety in medical terms.

In this light most runners can accept this current solution, at least until a better one is found.

Rules can be reviewed – but there’s a process:

The point is that where a rule does not relate to one of the five aspects above it need review and there is a formal process anyone can initiate to have a rule changed or a new rule promoted.

First get the support of the club: the club then takes it to provincial: provinces then discuss at national technical and it can then be adopted at the ASA Level.

The official is a policeman not a rule writer:

However perhaps the saddest action by some runners, is their abuse of the Technical Officials at the events. They are only the ‘policemen and women’ implementing the rules at the race such that we runners can enjoy our sport in a way that has been democratically determined by the clubs, and provinces who have adopted these rules nationally or provincially.

It’s time that runners take a deep breath when they are warned or disqualified – instead of verbally or threatening physical abuse – its time to acknowledge that the only person responsible for breaking a rule, is the person who broke it – shouting, abusing or manhandling (or worse) an official does not correct the offence:

The official was as much part of making the rule as the runner was:

How much would you charge to be abused?

Then ask this: Would you travel to and spend 8 hours in the early morning at a marathon to adjudicate and provide results, and take threats and abuse, for the princely sum of between R200 and R400?

Time rather for runners to respect the rule, and the officials than to bring the sport into disrepute with their actions – save the action for processing change where change is required.






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