Straight Running | The only rules that should trump performance are health and safety

Isaac Mpofu. PHOTO: Getty Images

Isaac Mpofu. PHOTO: Getty Images

On the coast last month, Zimbabwe’s Isaac Mpofu was first over the line in the new Durban International Marathon, which doubled as the SA Championships.

Mpofu ran an excellent 2:10:24 and this time would qualify him for the World Championships, as well as improve his ranking and earning power in future events.

However, he was disqualified for not having worn a back temporary license number, and not only forwent the R50 000 prize but also the performance, as well as the place in the World Championships.

No matter how the transgression is viewed, the fact is that the athlete was tracked by television running at least 42,195 km in a time officially recorded as 2:10:24.

Performance is king

The performance was genuine and, thankfully, an article in Top Runner has just confirmed that Mpofu has had his time reinstated and will be eligible for the World Championships.

The article confirmed the reinstatement only came after a progression of appeals had been turned down through ASA structures.

The case went to World Athletics and Mpofu gained back recognition of his performance, but to date neither the race organisers nor officials have relented on the prize money.

A situation where the winning time doesn’t earn the money!

That said, the doping results may not have been released, so the opportunity to do the right thing still exists.

Case study

This has the potential for a good Technical Officiating case study in that it highlights the blend of reasons for having rules.

It is not the first such case. Comrades runners will remember Zola Pieterse being disqualified from an age-best win in 2014 because she did not have age-category tags, even though the age was correctly printed on her number.

Why Rules exist

The base rule of all is: no unfair advantage.

This obviously guides most performance rules in the sport, relating to distance, time and behaviour on the course, all of which are covered under rules including WA rule 55.

There are also rules dealing with other issues, such as health and safety. The sport is then controlled for administrative purposes in terms of membership from World Athletics to National Federations to Club to athlete, coach, athletes’ representative (AR) or technical official(TO), etc.

All rules generally address issues in one or more sections.

Clearly, there are overlaps such as the age tags which ensure runners can see who they are competing against, while also making it easy for the officials to see the winners as they cross the line. This is almost unique to SA other than at formal Master Athletics events.

Realistically, the only rules that should trump performance is health and safety.

Where this is a problem, the event would probably be stopped or not started.

The challenges commence when administrative rules override performance rules. Therefore, there are additional rules to try to eliminate administrative challenges before an event.

Preventative measures

Some examples of preventative measures would be the publishing of entry lists to allow others to protest an athlete’s participation based on eligibility rules. The provision of a “Call Room” not only ensures the correct athletes are there but that their attire is correct in terms of numbers, shoes, headphones and technical, as well as advertising rules which at world and national championships level ban alcohol, smoking and gambling and so on, and limit the size of allowable branding. To ensure these and other technical matters are in place, the rules require the local, national or world federations to appoint technical delegates (TD) to work with and assist the race organisers in the preparation and implementation of the event. For example, ASA under rules 1 and 19 require national and provincial TDs at a national championships or major event on the world calendar.

The Durban Case Study

Importantly, this event was effectively the ASA 42 km Championships nested within the Durban International Marathon which offered 42 km, 21 km and 10 km distances.

Being a national championship meant there were both provincial and national TDs, and the desire tobe an international marathon meant that foreign athlete participation was an objective.

That said, the entry stated “no temporary licenses”, which was probably targeting local runners as these are not allowed in ASA Championships, as provincial teams must comprise registered club members.

No doubt this caused some confusion as the rules also require foreign athletes to have temporary licenses, and those local participants not selected for their province can run with a temporary one in the Durban International Marathon open section and, of course, the 21 km and 10 km sections.

There was no formal call room for the primary 42 km event, but in fairness, it is often possible to create a “Call Room” at the front section of the race where the elite and championship contenders are in place at the front.

In recent years (under ASA rule 7) the events have used contender batches in events making it easier for referees to inspect the runners to reduce administrative omissions in an informal call room.

This was the case in May and the referee did inspect Mpofu even though he had an upper covering due to the cold.

By inspecting an athlete in a call room, the TO effectively clears the athlete to compete, or gets him/her to correct the error before being allowed into the competition arena.

Errors and omissions will always happen due to human nature, but strangely in this case it was the same TO who DQ’d the athlete later.

The fact is the athlete did not have a temporary license but between the “no temporary license” statement and the inspection, was it the foreign athlete’s intent to break the rule and if so, why?

It is the athlete’s responsibility to know and abide by rules, assisted by his/her manager, but it’s also the responsibility of the TDs and organisers to ensure the call room was in place and operational, and the officials to do their complete inspection process.

It would seem many had a share in this downfall.

Protest and Appeal

The verbal appeal to the chief referee, who had undertaken the DQ, was rejected, meaning a written appeal was made and probably without the full facts or appreciation of the situation.

However, this was further flawed by the incorrect composition of jury which failed to meet the ASA or WA standards (WA rule CR12 and TR8, ASA rule 19.2), as it included both TDs both of whom would have had to admit they had failed to ensure the correct technical structures were in place if they accepted the appeal. Clear conflicts of interest.

This continued when Zimbabwe’s federation appealed as the letter was correctly directed to the national technical committee, but in this case at least two members of the committee were on the race day jury of appeal.

Although the opportunity existed to have a review, time for World Championship selection pushed the appeal higher.

Learning Lessons

Case studies are opportunities.This one surely shows the need for organisers to focus first on getting the pre-, during and post-technical matters correct and solid, then to build the “eventing” around that foundation.

Second is the danger of people being caught in situations where they need to swallow pride and accept some degree of responsibility.

In this case, every involved party from athlete, manager, TD, official and organiser failed to fully meet their expectations and it had a devastating outcome.

Thankfully, the first corrective step has been taken,and the time is ripe for common sense to take over. Performance has won the day; the athlete will hopefully be rewarded.