Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Biting Back: Spotlight on athletics for all the wrong reasons

Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad of France poses with the French national flag as he celebrates winning gold
Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad of France poses with the French national flag as he celebrates winning gold

When European Championship steeplechaser Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad entered the home straight then whipped off his shirt and whirled it in the air, before placing it in his mouth and hurdling the final obstacle to victory, the behaviour was disrespectful to his opponents – but worthy of stripping him of gold?

Certainly not. At first after Thursday's race the Frenchman was given a yellow card, effectively a warning for unsportsmanlike behaviour. But following an appeal by the Spanish team, whose athlete Angel Mullera had finished fourth, MekhissiBenabbad was stripped of a third European title.

His disqualification had nothing to do with unsportsmanlike behaviour; it was merely a technicality, the athlete falling foul of competition rules which state that an athlete must show his race number at all times.

With his France vest in his mouth, he contravened that.

Rules are rules but it made a complete mockery of the competition. Mekhissi-Benabbad was streets better than anyone else and the deserving champion.

Quite how Mullera can take home the bronze with any happiness, knowing full well he was only fourth best, is a mystery.

The bitter, ironic truth is that his actions gave athletics – a sport crying out for an increased spotlight whenever possible – arguably more global media attention than anything else in the championships.

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