While doing some research for a column I'm writing, I ran across the following segment from the February 1988 issue of Triathlete magazine. I clarified a few items, prefaced with "GB". I thought you would be interested...
Rules are Rules, But...
If you were confused by our January report of the pro women's race at the Bud Light USTS National Championships in Hilton Head, South Carolina, you weren't alone. Not only were Dian Girard Rives and Liz Bulman unsure of the process of their drafting disqualifications, but the USTS (GB: United States Triathlon Series) staff and the Tri-Fed (GB: Tri-Fed was the governing body for triathlon at that time.) officials were perplexed as well.
Back in 1985, Tri-Fed compiled the guidebook of safety standards and competitive rules for the governing body. Based on the lack of qualified people available to marshal bike courses of triathlons across the country at that time, Tri-Fed leaders felt that an alternative method of policing the drafting problem was necessary to provide a fair race environment. Their solution was to provide athletes with the option of "protesting" the actions of their fellow competitors. Unfortunately, that method has had the effect of encouraging some athletes to improve their finish places in events by trying to get faster competitors disqualified.
This protest system was first implemented in the 1986 guidebook and remains intact today, having been used on several occasions in 1987 to disqualify athletes. The current situation is confounding to say the least. We decided to take a look at the rule book for some clarification of the rule and its problems. Unfortunately, what we found was a lot of contradiction, ambiguity and an inappropriate rule made worse by poor wording.
The current protest process allows an athlete to file a protest against another athlete with the referee within 30 minutes of the finish. The written protest must include: the rule allegedly violated, the location and approximate time of the incident, the persons involved in the incident (the protestor must be involved), a statement of facts, and the numbers and names of any witnesses to the violation.
Upon receiving a protest, the referee forms a protest committee; he chairs the group and appoints two race officials to act as additional judges. A hearing is then called by the committee and the protest is read to the accused. Both parties to the conflict, it is stated in the book, must be present. The protestor and protestee are then given three minutes each to state their respective cases. Based on these statements and the testimony of two witnesses from both the protestor and the protestee, the committee makes a decision on the guilt or innocence of the protestee. The rulebook also states that in the event that one or the other parties is not present, the committee can still reach a binding decision based on whatever information is given at the hearing. (But remember that "must be present" proviso? The rule book doesn't.)
If a penalty or DQ is handed down by the protest committee (or directly from the referee based on a marshal's report), the violator has the option to appeal the decision before the ... TriFed Appeals Commissioner. The commissioner may uphold or reverse the decision of the Protest Committee based on his interpretation of the same information. Confused yet?
Tri-Fed officials admit that the drafting rules are contradictory and leave them open to serious controversies in the future. It appears that there is a large contingent within the federation that disapproves of the protest system. However, no one has been able to get anything done to change the situation, claiming that the officiating program has not been developed enough to eliminate the rule. One source inside the organization said, "The protest rule shouldn't exist. We'd like to take it out of the book completely for '88, but I don't know if we can get a solid officials program in place that quickly."