World Indoor Championships - the view from the Jury Room

Having previously acted as secretary to the Jury of Appeal at the 2016 World Indoors and the Rio Olympics, International Technical Official Chris Cohen was hoping for a quieter weekend as a member of the Jury in Belgrade. It turned out that way with just three appeals against the decisions made by the referees throughout the whole weekend!

Chris Cohen gives us a glimpse behind the scenes of the World Indoor Championships.

Of the three appeals, I stood down from one as it involved a British athlete (although I did look at the video evidence being used for the case), for a second one another jury member stood down as it involved a Canadian (her own country) and, for the third, all three members were able to sit in and decide the outcome. There were considerably more protests to the various referees but none of them were taken further by the teams once they spoke to the referee and watched the video evidence available.

Caught on camera

If I take a step back before talking about each case, just to explain that all of the TV coverage is available to the video referee and therefore to the Jury of Appeal, as well as the VDM (video distance measurement) videos and the take-off board video, both supplied by Seiko. In addition, the reaction times for the sprint starts and the wave-form pictures (which show the movement of athletes in the starting blocks) are also available, as they are for the starter and start referee immediately after the start (or false start!).

More and more the evidence comes from video rather than from umpires around the track, especially important with the new rule allowing one touch on the inside lane line. This rule came into force recently and was seen in action a number of times, with athletes receiving an “L” for lane violation alongside their name in the results and their next start list several times. A smaller number touched twice during the same race and were immediately disqualified. Memories of Birmingham 2018 where a record number were disqualified for a single touch!

Horizontal jump fouls

Probably the biggest controversy of the weekend was in dealing with fouls in the long and triple jump, where the new rule of passing the end of the board whilst still in contact with the ground was used for the first time at a major championship. It didn’t help that the broadcast images were from a different camera than the official view used by the referee. Even though the TV camera was only a centimetre or so away from the Seiko take-off camera, the view was quite different and showed what appeared to be valid jumps to the world which were, in fact, fouls. Happily, this was realised in the first event and close decisions were no longer shown on TV, but coaches were still convinced their athletes had had a valid jump, usually because they weren’t aware of the new rule. The athlete had a chance to look at the jump themselves, guided by the on-field referee who sowed them the official video close to the runway so that they could see for themselves what had happened. This cleared up the disagreement in almost every case, although the very close call in the last round of the women’s long jump that would have moved the Ukrainian athlete from 6th into the medals did bring about a protest and then an appeal to the jury.

It will be interesting to see how the rule develops over the next few months as it is used again for the outdoor World Championships, again judged using Seiko equipment, the Commonwealth Games, using Swiss Timing’s equipment and the European Championships, using a third type of equipment.

Appeals from the track

I mentioned the other two appeals briefly above. The first was the case of Jessie Knight, disqualified by the video referee for stepping off the track. The jury quite correctly reinstated her on viewing the fact that she was pushed off the track by another athlete. In expectation of a counter-appeal that she had pushed the Czech athlete when she returned to the track, the jury included a comment that they had considered disqualifying the Czech for pushing but, as she had not qualified for the next round, had not done so. This seemed to dissuade the Czechs from appealing. The other appeal was from the Canadians who requested their athlete John Gay, in the 3000m, who fell over the Kenyan Jacob Krop, who had himself fallen, be advanced to the final. It was decided that, as the Kenyan had got up and finished second, the Canadian, who was uninjured, could also have run himself back into the race and so the decision was not to advance him. This possibly sent a message that, just because an athlete falls over, they cannot automatically assume they will be advanced to the final, as has sometimes happened in past championships.

What's next?

It was an enjoyable weekend watching athletics from a different seat from my normal one as Competition Director, to which I will return later in the summer in Eugene, and I did see more than I do when I’m concentrating on three or four different events at the same time, but it does bring a different type of pressure when you know your judgement may decide the outcome of a medal for the athlete who thinks they have been wronged, and often their even more vociferous coach!

Photo of Lorraine Ugen on her way to a Bronze medal: Mark Shearman