On the global track
The more the murkier
IN THE NEWS
Despite the absence of some top names, the World Athletics Championships promise high-quality international fare, writes John Mehaffey
American sprinters, African distance runners, Swedish jumpers and Cuban throwers give a genuinely global dimension to the 10th World Athletics Championships starting in Helsinki on August 6.
After 22 years the championships will return to the Finnish capital where the first world championships were staged in a radically different world.
In 1983 the cream of the world’s track and field athletes had not met on a global stage since the 1972 Munich Olympics because of successive boycotts.
With the Cold War at its frostiest, representatives of 153 countries arrived in Helsinki where the USA, the Soviet Union and East Germany disputed the majority of the medals.
This time about 2,000 athletes from more than 200 nations will pour into Finland for the year’s biggest international athletics event.
"We’ve been calculating that 205 countries will be represented," said Antti Pihlakoski, chief executive of the local organising committee. "I don’t know if there have ever been as many representatives of so many countries gathered in any event at the same time."
The championships have already been hit by some high-profile withdrawals, including several gold medallists from last year’s Athens Olympics.
Hicham El Guerrouj, who won the 1,500m-5,000m double in Athens, will not race at all this season after suffering from a virus. Olympic hammer throw champion Koji Murofushi of Japan has withdrawn because of a lingering rib injury, and three-time Olympic javelin champion Jan Zelezny has pulled out because of an Achilles tendon injury
Swedish triple jumper Christian Olsson is still feeling the effects of a foot injury and 200 metres champion Shawn Crawford of the USA will run only the 100m because of a similar complaint.
Australian pole vaulter Paul Burgess, the only man to have cleared six metres this year, and Britain’s 800m and 1,500m champion Kelly Holmes have also pulled out due to injury.
Asafa Powell, the 100m world record holder, has also been ruled out. Powell, who has been troubled by a groin injury since breaking the world record in June, failed to finish at London’s Crystal Palace recently.
The fight between the 22-year-old Jamaican and Olympic champion Justin Gatlin had been shaping up as the race of the championships. With Powell out, Gatlin, who won the 100m and 200m double at the US championships, starts as the clear favourite.
Gatlin won the 100 metres during a cool evening in Stockholm recently while his team-mate Jeremy Wariner rebounded from his unexpected loss at Crystal Palace with a composed victory in the 400 metres.
Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele, the male athlete of the year, has been entered for both the 5,000m and 10,000m in Helsinki.
Bekele, whose teenage fiancee collapsed and died on a training run last January, won the world cross-country short and long-course double for the fourth successive time this year.
Even with Olsson absent, Finland’s Nordic neighbours Sweden can be expected to punch well above their weight, particularly in the high jump.
Stefan Holm is the men’s Olympic champion and Kajsa Bergqvist is the women’s world leader.
Sweden will also field Carolina Kluft, the Olympic and world heptathlon gold medallist.
Cuba have become a force in women’s throwing with Yumileidi Cumba and Osleidys Menendez winning the Olympic shot put title and javelin gold medal, respectively. Yipsi Moreno defends the women’s hammer title.
Soaring above them all will be Russia’s Yelena Isinbayeva, who took the world women’s pole vault record to five metres at Crystal Palace, the 17th world record of her career.
"It was my dream to be the first woman over five metres," she said. "I don’t know how much higher I can go. Maybe 5.05 metres. Maybe further." — Reuters
The more the murkier
"Two’s company, three’s a crowd" is the general refrain voiced by top sportspersons and officials about the utility of the third umpire. The latter’s introduction was seen as an ultimate move to ensure foolproof decisions in sports. Yet, this revolutionary step has not really rid sports of controversies. When umpires watched the on-field action with the naked eye, things were rather fair and square.
The recent incidents of Indian teams and sportspersons getting a raw deal at the hands of umpires have brought into sharp focus the significance of the third umpire.
How relevant is his role? Is he infallible? Can his decision be objective, without bias? There are no sure answers to these posers. "Umpires are humans too. Why add to the crowd?" is the common line of argument.
The Indian hockey team complained of a raw deal after the Junior World Cup at Rotterdam. They felt that they were done in by biased umpiring. "Had there been a third eye watching the action, we could have got a fair deal", observed an Indian Hockey Federation official. In fact, not only India, but also other Asian countries like Pakistan, Malaysia and Korea suffered at the hands of European umpires.
The partial exoneration of Sourav Ganguly by South African Judge Albie Sachs is in fact an indictment of the prevalent checks and balances method in cricket. The Judge, without castigating the ICC match referee for handing out Sourav a six-match suspension, rapped the ICC and the BCCI for their lackadaisical approach to the incident.
The incident has highlighted how the interpretation of the rule book by one man can affect a successful captain like Sourav, who has not only lost his captaincy, albeit temporarily, but also suffered loss of face. The captain could not have been held fully responsible for the slow over rate, though the ICC match referee went strictly by the rule book, just like a robot.
Is there a way out of such tricky situations? "Keep sports simple", says former hockey Olympian Dr Vece Paes. According to him, regular rule changes are adding to the confusion. "More people judging a match would create more problems", he fears.
He considers football a "clean" sport by and large because of the simple rules governing it.
Football has been carrying on with one referee and two linesmen, with the fourth one sitting on the sideline taking care of substitutions and time-keeping. A match commissioner is at hand in major competitions to arbitor or step in to tackle problematic situations.
In hockey, two on-field umpires manage the game, and the judges intervene only when a situation gets out of hand.
Most feel there is really no need for a third umpire in hockey. But a former Olympian, who is in the Rules Board of the Federation Internationale Hockey (FIH), was vehement in his assertion that it was time the third umpire concept was introduced in hockey.
"Third umpire is a must as sometimes a goal denied can result in a title lost", he maintained, citing the junior team’s woes at Rotterdam as the latest example. In his opinion, an impartial third umpire can ensure a just result.
But a hockey umpire feels that "more officials would only add to the confusion". Introducing the third umpire in hockey and football would necessitate live coverage of matches, which does not always happen in India. "How many national hockey and football matches are being telecast live in India?", he asked.
Shiv Kumar Verma, secretary of the Jawaharlal Nehru Hockey Society, aptly summed up the plight of Indian hockey when he revealed that Doordarshan did not show any keenness to telecast hockey matches. "Once upon a time, the Nehru Hockey Society got paid by Doordarshan for telecasting matches. Now they ask us to pay for telecasting matches as they contend that showing hockey matches is not an economically viable proposition", he said wistfully.
"In such a scenario, how can we ever think of introducing the third umpire in hockey?", he wondered.
IN THE NEWS
Sahaj Grover, the under-10 world chess champion, is quite unlike children of his age in many ways.
The nine-year-old prodigy, a student of Class V at Kulachi Hansraj Model School, Delhi, neither sits in front of the idiot box nor has a fascination for cricket.
"I do not have a TV at my home," comes the surprise reply from the little one. "Anyway, they show only cricket on the TV," says Sahaj, a football fan, expressing his dislike for cricket.
"I like football but I don’t like cricket because my right hand, with which I can bowl, aches a lot," he says.
Sahaj, however, is a videogames addict and his ultimate goal is to become a scientist. It is of course chess that excites him.
Sahaj, who returned with the world under-10 title from Belfort, France, last week, is a fan of Viswanathan Anand, whom he calls "Anand uncle", but idolises Russian great Garry Kasparov.
"Kasparov is my idol because no one can defeat him," remarks Sahaj.
Sahaj was hardly four when he participated in the Delhi under-19 championships where he won one match and drew two others.
He won a silver medal in the under-8 and under-10 categories in the British championships in Torquay in 2002.
He is the current under-7 and under-10 national champion and was the youngest Indian to get FIDE rating at the age of five years, five months and 20 days.
Sahaj also has the distinction of being the only player to have held World No. 2 Viswanathan Anand to a draw when he was on a promotional tour in New Delhi.
The other Indian who won laurels at Belfort, world under-12 chess champion N. Srinath, is more keen on improving his ELO rating than winning titles.
The Chennai boy, a student of M CT MCC Matriculation HR Secondary School, says his ambition is to rise as high as Anand and become an icon like him.
It was a chance incident which made him
take up the game. "Once I happened to visit my cousins in Mumbai.
They never allowed me to play with them. When I returned to Chennai, my
father bought a chess set for me. I joined an academy and my love for
the game grew manifold," he fondly recalls. — PTI
Sanath Jayasuriya, along with tail-ender Farveez Maharoof, played level-headedly to guide Sri Lanka to a thrilling three-wicket victory in the opening match of the tri-series. At one time the hosts were struggling for survival, but Jayasuriya used his experience to rescue his team. Earlier, Muttiah Muralitharan surprised the Indian batsmen with his crafty bowling. Barring captain Rahul Dravid, the top-order batsmen played hurriedly against the accurate Lankan bowling. They paid the price for playing reckless shots. However, the match could have gone India’s way had the pace bowlers been able to contain Sri Lanka in the concluding overs.
India were deprived of a podium finish in the Junior Hockey World Cup due to bad umpiring. It is not the first time when India became the victim of umpiring mistakes. The same thing happened in the match against New Zealand at the Athens Olympics and the encounter against Malaysia at this year’s Sultan Azlan Shah Cup.
Apropos the news item titled "Ex-cricketer wallowing in misery" in The Tribune (July 8), it is very sad that former sportspersons of this country face such hardships despite the presence of extremely rich sports bodies. The Punjab Cricket Association is a fairly rich organisation and it should have come forward to extend financial help in this case. At least it could have sponsored a benefit match for Devi Chand. Ironically, such help is often offered to influential players.
The Tribune as well as its reporter deserve praise for highlighting the plight of a great sportsperson. The Punjab Government should also rise to the occasion and extend financial help to him.
Kudos to Russian pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva, who created history by shattering the five-metre barrier. The reigning Olympic champion performed the feat at the London Super Grand Prix to become the first woman to leap to five metres. Now she has set her sights on 5.5 metres and the way she is breaking one record after the other, she will accomplish the task sooner than later.
Yelena is not the kind of athlete who rests on her laurels but is always determined to perform even better. Her amazing giant leap has given a new direction to women’s pole vaulting.
Sergei Bubka, who was he first man to go over 6m and holds the men’s world record of 6.14m, sees a lot of potential in Yelena and thinks that 5m for women is equivalent to 6m for men. That is the greatest tribute paid by an all-time great pole vaulter to another of his ilk. In fact, Bubka and records had become synonymous and so appears to be the case with Yelena, who is simply unstoppable.
Tarsem S. Bumrah