Sreeshankar foul explained — was India robbed of gold medal in long jump at CWG? 

It was determined that Sreeshankar had breached the foul line by 1cm. If not for the foul, he would have likely won the gold medal.

Murali Sreeshankar won silver in men’s long jump at Commonwealth Games.

Murali Sreeshankar won silver in men’s long jump at Commonwealth Games. | Photo Credit: Getty Images

It was determined that Sreeshankar had breached the foul line by 1cm. If not for the foul, he would have likely won the gold medal.

Murali Sreeshankar had started celebrating after his fourth attempt in the men’s long jump competition at the 2022 Commonwealth Games. After making three jumps well short of the foul line, Sreeshankar, the national record holder and gold medal favourite for the long jump competition in Birmingham, was in sixth place with a best of 7.84m.

However, the attempt, which looked to be in the 8.20m range, was declared a foul. Sreeshankar had breached the foul line by one cm. As he saw the replay of where his take off foot landed on the foul line, Sreeshankar was left aghast.

“It was a millimetre!” Sreeshankar screamed to his corner.

In screengrabs (picture 1) it appears that there was a fraction of a gap between the end of Sreeshankar’s boot and the beginning of the plasticine strip at the end of the take-off board.

Much of the confusion is caused by the fact that the images people are commenting on are from those pulled from a broadcast camera that isn’t positioned at the same angle as the official measuring camera.

Much of the confusion is caused by the fact that the images people are commenting on are from those pulled from a broadcast camera that isn’t positioned at the same angle as the official measuring camera. | Photo Credit: Screengrab

Why was Sreeshankar’s effort declared a foul? 

The confusion over the legality of Sreeshankar’s jump comes due to a change in the way fouls are judged in the horizontal jumps. Until very recently, a no-jump in the triple and long jump was called when an athlete was judged to have touched the ground beyond the take-off line. To assist in the decision a plasticine strip was used. This strip was laid down at an angle of 45 degrees from the take-off board. Theoretically if an athlete crossed the take off-line, he would leave a mark on the plasticine. But in reality, because of the angle, it was noticed that on occasions, the toecaps of athletes visibly breached the take-off line without marking the plasticine. 

On September 8, 2020, the World Athletics made a change in their technical rulebook. World Athletics rule-book rule 30, clause 30.1, sub-clause 30.1.1, defines a foul jump primarily as: “An athlete fails if . . they while taking off (prior to the instant at which they cease contact with the take-off board or ground), break the vertical plane of the take-off line with any part of their take-off foot/shoe...” 

The key phrase here is ‘vertical plane’. In a post on the world athletics site titled competition rule changes, the federation argued that it was felt that the rule change would be more understandable and simpler to judge. As such the article stated that the plasticine board “if used”, is to be set at 90 degrees. 

The change was supposed to be implemented in November 2020 but following the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics due to the COVID-19 pandemic, was introduced in November 2021.

Why did it look like that Sreeshankar was behind the line? 

Blame it on parallax error – the same reason why in cricket a clean catch from one camera angle looks to have bounced in another – and broadcast technology has not caught up to the rule change yet. Much of the confusion is caused because the images people are commenting on are from a broadcast camera that isn’t positioned at the same angle as the official measuring camera. The latter is calibrated to the vertical plane. In images available to the officials, it is likely that the tip of Sreeshankar’s boot broke the vertical plane just prior to lifting off. 

Have similar controversies erupted before? 

This issue was first noticed at the Indoor World Championships – the first high profile event where this rule change was implemented. International Technical Official Chris Cohen spoke about the controversy from the World Indoor Championships in March 2022 in an article for British Athletics. “Probably the biggest controversy of the weekend was in dealing with fouls in the long and triple jump, where the new rule of passing the end of the board whilst still in contact with the ground was used for the first time at a major championship. It didn’t help that the broadcast images were from a different camera than the official view used by the referee. Even though the TV camera was only a centimetre or so away from the Seiko take-off camera, the view was quite different and showed what appeared to be valid jumps to the world which were, in fact, fouls,” Cohen wrote. “Happily, this was realised in the first event and close decisions were no longer shown on TV, but coaches were still convinced their athletes had a valid jump, usually because they weren’t aware of the new rule. The athlete had a chance to look at the jump themselves, guided by the on-field referee, who showed them the official video close to the runway so that they could see for themselves what had happened. This cleared up the disagreement in almost every case,” Cohen added. 

What was the public response to that controversy? 

The change in equipment from humble plasticine to high-tech cameras and the fact that the breaking of the ‘vertical plane’ was what determined a foul caused plenty of furore on social media. Four-time Olympic long jump champion Carl Lewis was particularly fierce with his words, as he tweeted: “The rules committee has destroyed the field events. They are an embarrassment to this and any sport. They have no f##%&@@ clue about any of these events. This makes no sense, as we went down this road in the 1980s. Who brings these ideas up in the first place?”

Shara Proctor, the British record-holder with 7.07m, expressed bemusement over a leap by the Ukrainian Maryna Bekh-Romanchuk and said: “When will they stop changing the rules in our event.”

What did the foul cost Sreeshankar? 

If not for the foul, Sreeshankar looked like he had cleared around 8.10m, if not more. While any mark above 8.08m – the mark he would make in his fifth jump and which would leave him level with eventual champion LaQuan Nairn – would have likely won him the gold, even a mark marginally less than that would have helped. With Nairn and Sreeshankar tied on best jump, the gold medal went to the athlete with the next best jump. Nairn had the second-best jump of 7.98m. With one of Sreeshankar’s potentially longest jumps of the competition deemed a foul, his next best was only a modest 7.84m and he had to settle for silver. 

What can be done in the future?

Sreeshankar: “We have to be a lot more careful going into the future. Until now, our goal was to make a perfect jump right at the edge of the board. Instead of going for the perfect takeoff, we need to spare 4-5 cm behind the board. The perfect takeoff with zero centimeters is an ideal thing. But that’s not ideal with this technology. I think it’s going to be important to give ourselves a 4-5 cm space so that when we are taking off, there’s no part of the boot ahead of the foul line.”

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