WHY PENALTY AWARDS NEED A RETHINK, SAYS 220 COLUMNIST
Home favourite Sam Long’s hotlydisputed drafting penalty took most of the focus in St George, but India’s own blue card – also caught on camera – was equally harsh and underscores the problem with such punitive calls.
India was placed second in a five-woman paceline, holding the gap as close to 12m as she could to prevent going into the Canadian Paula Findlay’s draft zone. The only athlete up the road at that point was eventual winner Taylor Knibb – so the race was on.
Approaching a hill, another British athlete, Holly Lawrence, attempted an audacious overtake from the back of the line. If all the women ahead are spaced at 12m it meant Lawrence would have to overtake the entire line without slotting in or she’d receive a drafting penalty. But as she drew level with Lee, Lawrence seemed to run out of gas and the allotted 25secs for each pass was running out.
Two elements were now in play. Lawrence can’t slot in unless there’s a 12m gap to Findlay, or she risks a drafting penalty. But as soon as Lawrence’s front wheel edges ahead of India, India has to drop back or can receive a blocking penalty. Is India just under or just over 12m behind Findlay? It’s an impossibly tight call for the naked eye.
The upshot was the referee gave India the blocking penalty. A stern command for either Lawrence to make haste or Lee to drop would have been better. Five minutes in a 70.3 – the same sanction as over the full distance – is a race-ruining call for something so subjective.
This is not to condone foul play, but the penalty needs to fit the offence. Until technology comes in to solve the problem once and for all, the referees should be encouraged to communicate more and the penalty needs to be lessened.