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Why IAAF rules require a rethink after steeplechaser’s disqualification

Mens 3000m Steeple
Friday, 29 August 2014 By Lydia Banerjee

French middle distance runner Mekhissi-Benabbad has been making headlines again for all the wrong reasons. Having previously found fame for fighting with his team mate on track and abusing mascots during meets1; this time, while winning an emphatic victory in the 3000m steeplechase at the recent European Championships, he threw it all away by celebrating during the race.2

Mekhissi-Benabbad was on the final straight, ahead by a comfortable margin, when he removed his vest, taking the final hurdle with it in his mouth. At the time, he was shown a yellow warning card (the same penalty a jubilant goal-scoring footballer receives for engaging in similar celebratory activities); but, subsequently, he was stripped of the gold medal and disqualified.

So, what exactly was the offence that Mekhissi-Benabbad committed?

The initial yellow warning card was shown for an infringement of Rule 125.5 of the International Association of Athletics Federations’ Competition Rules3 (IAAF Rules), which gives the referee authority to warn or expel an athlete “guilty of acting in an unsportsmanlike or improper manner”.

The Rule is not dissimilar to FIFA Law 12, which provides for an automatic yellow card for unsporting behaviour from a player who removes his jersey after scoring a goal.4 It is worth noting that referee’s in football are expected to act in a preventative manner and to exercise common sense in dealing with the celebration of a goal.

The disqualification followed an appeal by the Spanish team, whose athlete finished fourth, relying on rules in relation to athletes dress. In particular, IAAF Rule 143.1:

 in all events, athletes must wear clothing which is clean, and designed and worn so as not to be objectionable…athletes shall participate in the uniform clothing approved by their national governing body. The Victory Ceremony and any lap of honour are considered part of the competition for this purpose…” 5

The appeal also relied upon IAAF Rule 143.7 Every athlete shall be provided with two bibs which, during the competition, shall be worn visibly on the breast and back…" 6

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Lydia Banerjee

Lydia Banerjee

Lydia is an active member of the Littleton Chambers Sports law group. In line with the broader chambers specialisms Lydia’s core areas of practice are commercial law and employment law.  Lydia’s commercial practice encompasses disputes including contractual interpretation, professional negligence and directors’ duties.  Lydia’s employment work has a particular focus on disability discrimination but also incorporates all areas of tribunal disputes and high court action in relation to bonuses and restrictive covenants.

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