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PROTRACK » GENERAL » Patrick Smith - Rules are rules but some are senseless

Patrick Smith - Rules are rules but some are senseless

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Rules are rules but some are senseless
by: Patrick Smith
The Australian
June 18, 2012

GENEVIEVE LaCaze runs a ripping time good enough to run for her country at the London Olympics.

But she can't because she ran it two days later than the Australian athletic selectors divined appropriate.

Couple of injured Carlton footballers at home watching their teammates do battle against West Coast in Perth last Thursday twiddle their thumbs and tweet that they don't think much of the umpiring. The AFL administration warns that it is considering amputating the offending tweeting fingers but might just settle for fines instead.

Heavy-handed or appropriate? Insensitive or rules are rules are rules? Officials with regulations and codes, their philosophies and semantics appear to have an inordinate power to disrupt an athlete's immediate future and the environment in which they compete.

LaCaze ran an A-qualifying time in the 3000m steeplechase, the first Australian to do so since Mosstrooper took out the National Steeple at Flemington in 1930. The 22-year-old ran the time in the US where she represents the University of Florida. But her time of 9min 41.15sec came just after the cut-off date of June 11 set by Australian athletics selectors.

The Queenslander got no sympathy from AA's high-performance manager Eric Hollingsworth, who said: "All the emotional stuff needs to be taken out, otherwise it is not fair to the other hundreds of athletes who have complied with the deadline that was set." Hollingsworth was adamant, telling the media: "It needs no more complication than that."

Australia has had these selection issues before. The most infamous came when Ian Thorpe plonked himself into the pool before the starter's buzzer sounded at the Australian championships and selection trials in 2004. Under swimming's Olympic criteria, Thorpe, the world's best freestyler, had to finish in the first two of the 400m to qualify for Athens. His false start disqualified him from competing in the heat and thus also at the event at the Games.

A willing argument followed, with the then prime minister, John Howard, declaring Thorpe's impending absence from the event he won in world record time at the Sydney Games as a "tragedy".
But swimming officials would not budge, what with rules being rules and all that. Thorpe eventually swam the 400m in Athens and won the gold but only after Craig Stevens, who had finished second at the trials, made way for him.

Selectors must have the right to set criteria, including a cut-off date, otherwise the process of picking a team becomes a shemozzle. A legal nightmare of challenges and disputes. There has to be a point of no return.

The stubbornness, even madness of Thorpe not representing the country in his best event seemed a psychotic episode of self-harm. Equally, to deny LaCaze her chance to run for her country because her time was not set before some arbitrary date seemed unjust, even cruel.

It seems senseless, too, when Hollingsworth argues about fairness to the hundreds of athletes who complied with the cut-off date. That would have some weight if Australia had hundreds of athletes just about to run A-qualifiers. We don't.

Our two golden retrievers failed to meet the A-qualifying distance in the long jump by the appropriate date. Yet they do not feel robbed of a realistic opportunity to leap for gold with the extension of the qualifying date to allow LaCaze to run in London. In fact, the dogs are relieved because all they really wanted to do was dig holes in the sand. Hollingsworth's argument really holds for one or two athletes. To say hundreds is absurd.

LaCaze will run for Australia because Athletics Australia was made to change its mind by force of public opinion and official pressure from the Australian Olympic Committee. The cut-off date has been extended to Friday and thus all of those "hundreds" of athletes have not been treated as unfairly as Hollingsworth threatened. When the heavy-handed, unsympathetic rulings of sports bureaucrats impinge on our athletes and their dreams, the public will always get angry.

For the most part, Australians want their sportsmen and women to succeed. Even if the mostly anonymous LaCaze, who is running in the States on a scholarship, has only come to the country's attention through this selection controversy. To not let her run would grate raw.

Carlton footballers Marc Murphy and Jeremy Laidler are certain to be fined by the AFL because they made inappropriate tweets while watching their teammates. The comments were critical of the umpires and for the club to even suggest they weren't is to pant for ridicule.

This is not a matter of freedom of speech or two frustrated footballers letting off steam. It is not about the trap of immediacy and coverage that is intrinsic to Twitter. It is two young men doing dumb things. Their freedom of speech is not being squelched under the weight of political correctness. As footballers, they are told not to criticise umpires or disciplinary decisions because it can undermine confidence in umpiring and the judicial system. It stands true of any medium or media platform you choose.

Sport administration needs to be as sophisticated as it is tough. In the case of both the LaCaze timing and the footballers' tweeting, the administration seems to have acted fairly and with common sense. Ruff, ruff.

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