Analysis: Hindes’ intentional crash brings spirit of competition into question

Was Britain's team sprint crash cheating or cunning? The UCI says it wasn't the former, but the IOC calls for a look at the rules

LONDON, England (VN) — Perhaps the most telling moment of Thursday’s Philip Hindes intentional-crash controversy happened not on the velodrome but in the post-race press conference, an hour after Hindes, Jason Kenny and Sir Chris Hoy had disposed of France to take team sprint gold.

Hindes, who is just 19, arrived first, on his own, and fielded questions about his crash just 50 meters into Team GB’s first qualifying race.

It was then that he contradicted earlier statements about his crash, saying that it had not been intentional, that he’d simply “just lost control, just fell down.”

Several moments later Hoy, one of Great Britain’s biggest stars, arrived. Though it was clear most of the questions would then be directed at Hoy, the pressroom moderator explained to Hindes that he was welcome to stay, which he agreed to do.

Hoy, however — perhaps unaware of the questioning that had already taken place — told Hindes he should call it a night and commence resting. Hindes had, essentially, been dismissed by his more experienced, more media-savvy mentor.

The damage, however, had already been done.

Hindes had earlier told reporters asking about the crash, “I did it on purpose, just to get the restart, just to have the fastest ride. It was all planned really.”

Whether Hindes’ initial answer was based in honesty or naivety was hard to discern. British Cycling later suggested those comments were “lost in translation” by the German-born Hindes.

To be clear, Hindes didn’t break any rules by intentionally laying down his bike 50 meters from the start line.

In track cycling the rules dictate that in the event of an early crash, teams can restart their race. The UCI rules state, “In the event of a mishap, the team must restart at the end of the qualifying rounds. Any team which may have been hindered by a mishap to its opponents may, by decision of the commissaires’ panel, be granted a restart at the end of the qualifying rounds. In the qualifying rounds a team may only be permitted two starts.”

There is no provision in the rules about what must be the cause of the crash.

Hines’ maneuver certainly struck a nerve at an Olympic Games that has already seen eight badminton players disqualified for “not using one’s best efforts to win a match” and for “conducting oneself in a manner that is clearly abusive or detrimental to the sport.”

Hindes’ admission showed a flagrant bending of the rules, which was especially poignant on a night when the Chinese women’s team sprint squad was relegated from gold to silver over a marginal, and unintentional, violation of an overtaking rule that was difficult to discern even on instant replay.

The UCI confirmed the result was not in question, and the International Olympic Committee said there were no plans to investigate, adding, “Our view is that people were not deprived of a contest.”

On Friday, IOC communications director Mark Adams acknowledged that it was time to look into modifying the UCI rules to prevent this sort of incident from happening in the future: “The French team has accepted the result. But we believe it is time to modify the regulations. It is important that athletes are competing in the Olympic spirit.”

There is no UCI rule to govern an intentional crash, and no appeal is possible; France accepted its silver-medal outcome.

Though it’s not a direct comparison, sacrificing a rule violation for the greater good occurs in most sports, whether it’s an intentional foul in basketball, or a touchdown-saving horse collar tackle in NFL football. Those comes with penalties; Hindes’ act did not, except, perhaps for the superficial harm done to his right hip after crashing down on the wooden track surface.

Rules vary even within cycling; when Spain’s Luis Leon Sanchez broke a chain coming off the start ramp of his Olympic time trial on Wednesday, there was no do-over. His race had been lost before it had even begun.

The patriotic British press handled the story with kid gloves, more or less allowing Hindes the opportunity to revise his statements. Had it been a French rider laying down his bike for a chance at a faster start, there’s little doubt the local media would have treated the incident differently, particularly given that the rider in question offered differing accounts in the span of 30 minutes.

More than anything, the Hindes incident brings the concept of the “spirit of competition” into question. Is sportsmanship something intrinsic, or does it vary from sport to sport? Is taking advantage of the rules cheating, or cunning?

Those badminton players, disqualified from the Olympics after trying to lose matches to receive a more favorable place in the tournament, would no doubt have an opinion.

On Friday Adams acknowledged that the IOC would look into modifying the rules in order to prevent this sort of incident from happening in the future, saying, “The French team has accepted the result. But we believe it is time to modify the regulations. It is important that athletes are competing in the Olympic spirit.”

In the end, whether or not Hindes was cheating, or simply using the rules to his advantage, will be a debate for the ages. Those inside the track world will say the latter, and Hindes has the gold medal to prove it.