15 April 2010
Part 2 of interview with top official Alan Bell, as seen in Athletics Weekly Magazine
One of these home championships awarded Bell the highest possible chance to use his skills on a global stage, and it was a huge boost for him to be positioned as chief starter for the World Indoor championship in 2003.
Back then, the false start rule prior to the one introduced early in 2010 was being nursed into action, and not only did the UK have the eyes of the world on it to check it was still capable of hosting a world level athletics event, but it also had to handle the implementation of the new ruling into its first championship appearance. If you recall, the rule saw every athlete placed on a warning after the first false start, and was a significant culture shock for athletes in sprint events.
Bell and his colleagues knew they had no easy task, but they set about creating a false start policy for the championships which proved so successful, it was eventually adopted the world over.
“It might sound odd, but do you remember there being any problems at Birmingham in 2003? We had a procedure that maintained the rules, handled the protests and equally ensured we treated the athletes firmly but with a degree of sensitivity e.g. escorting them from the track.”
Fast forward 5 months to the Stade de France in Paris and you get a clear indication of how the new ruling could impact on the proceedings. The world championships in 2003 is as synonymous with Jon Drummond’s lying down in the lane appeal during the 100m as Berlin is with Bolt’s world record. For the second time this interview Bell is shaking his head in disbelief.
“Everyone remembers Paris and in officiating terms it should have been so much better. The athlete should never have been allowed access to the readouts, the information given should have been more structured – he should have been escorted away. An unfortunate situation became horrendous.
It was events like this that showed the IAAF that starting was too inconsistent across the world, and was having hugely varying results in what were major championships. One championship could get it so very right, another so very wrong.”
Perhaps on the back of events like Paris the IAAF started to look at how they could address the issue of consistency amongst stating procedures across the world, and in selecting an elite panel of the world’s best starters, Bell was again honoured in being invited to chair the process.
“It was a superb opportunity and fantastic accolade,” he said of his appointment to the international starter’s panel. “We were selected partly on our experience but also from a poll of athletes and fellow officials the world over as those who they respected and felt safe in the hands of during events.
“Together the panel – who worked with the IAAF Technical committee – wrote the global starting protocol – which was basically putting into words the process we had used at Birmingham in 2003. We didn’t write anything new we just gave the lead and as a result we brought a number of differing procedures in line.”
That Bell has helped lead the way in making starts to events a straight forward process is all the more significant when considering the battering the 100m record has taken in recent seasons. It is this consistency that means the sport can have events take place where performances of athletes take centre stage as opposed to officiating decisions.
With this in mind it would be tempting to place all championships in the hands of one elite group of proven officials from across the world. But in doing so, Bell acknowledges there is no progression for the LOC officials to develop and take the centre stage in the championship they are hosting.
It is why Bell himself has recently returned from a stint it spent in Daegu, South Korea, home of the 2011 World Championships, helping to train up the country’s top starters in the processes recognised by the IAAF at maintaining the consistency of the global starting protocol.
“I’m a big believer that parachuting into a championship and doing the job for them doesn’t achieve anything for the long term development of officials across the world,” he reasons. “We need to teach otherwise the best procedures don’t get adopted, they just become something that is done at elite championships.
“I use the same materials we use to teach our official here in the UK when training other officials, it’s one of the best in the world and brings others in line with IAAF procedures. That’s another way in which we have been so lucky here in the UK, the quality of our Officials Education is second to none.”
It is with this that he make his most telling statement about his long and impressive CV of officiating excellence, although you would suspect there is an air of modesty in his insistence that:
“I’m not the best starter in the world, I’m good at what I do but there are plenty of others across the world who I feel are as good as me, and probably better. What I have had is great opportunities whether it be competitions, education, good mentoring and great colleagues on the technical committee. I feel very luck y with what I’ve achieved but I would also want any UK official to know that we have the best opportunities here so it is definitely achievable if they want to do it.”
In closing our interview Bell reveals his busy schedule in the year ahead – including his appointment as International starter for the Commonwealth Games in India. But nothing quite whets his appetite as looking forward to 2012.
“2012 is just a dream. To have been able to be involved in sport in general but also ‘my sport’ at this level has meant I really have loved every second.
“We are so lucky to have the Olympics coming to London, This will never happen again in our lifetimes and if you are lucky enough to be a part of it whether it be as an official, athlete, or even spectator then you really are privileged.
“Put it this way. If I had to hang up my guns on Sept 19th 2012, I’d still be a very happy man.”