oldSTAGER No.98
June/July 2006

 

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May The Force Majeure Be With You - NOT

Force majeure: unforeseeable circumstances that prevent someone from fulfilling a contract.

The dictionary definition is unhelpful when applying this imported French term to sport, try instead: unforeseeable circumstances, which might affect the result of an event.

When did you last see uncorrected force majeure (FM) affect sports like football, tennis and motor racing? One might get a bad decision from a football referee, but that will ultimately be eliminated with video replays and GPS tracking footballs. In tennis, the “magic eye” and umpires keep watch on line calls. In motor racing, the clerk of the course and stewards will ensure justice prevails. A key fact is these sports often take place in full permanent view of spectators, who will demand fair play.

Rallying is not so fortunate. Much of the course on rallies will be unobserved so compensation for outside influence will often be missing. On a stage rally, there are perhaps only three FM possibilities: spectators, baulking and accidents. Fortunately, it will be rare that a spectator will upset proceedings unless some maniac lobs a rock into the road or at a windscreen. Deliberate baulking by competitors can be penalised by Blue Book K3.8. Even with accidents, competitors are protected by K24.2.8, which attempts to make allowances for disruptions on stages.

By far the biggest sufferers of FM in any sport are competitors on a road rally. Sharing the public roads with other motorists is an invitation for FM to truly make its mark. Yes, I'm talking about the intervention of Jane Public.

On recent events, I’ve had a hard day’s work spoilt by a huge penalty at a regularity TC. Huge equalled only a couple of minutes, but on rallies where every second counts, that can be an irretrievable setback. On each occasion, an oncoming Ms 4x4 happened to be the problem.

On a narrow country lane, Jane didn’t have the foresight to pull into the passing place she’d just missed. She couldn’t reverse, and couldn’t pull over because she didn’t know the width of her vehicle, thought she’d get stuck (so why does she drive a 4x4?) and make the wagon dirty. Result: we had to reverse until there was room for a combine harvester with wing mirrors to pass. You've surely had the same problem?

Don’t get me wrong, Ms 4x4 has every right to be there and the blockage could have been caused by Mr 4x4 (probably wearing a hat), a farm vehicle or National Velvet in training, but is it fair? It’s the same for everyone, you might argue – yes, but only if every competitor, tackles every event over an infinite period of time. Sadly, I doubt you will live long enough for the law of averages to take effect.

Night rallies are of course less prone to force majeure, since most organisers will be sensible and run their tough road sections after the Janes are tucked up in bed. But on a daytime regularity, if you meet Jane close to the next time control, you will be heading for lateness penalties.

Some organisers have tried damage limitation on regularities by introducing either a tapered system of penalties (1 mark/second up to a minute, then 10 marks/minute); or a capped system (30 marks maximum for any being early or late by more than 30 seconds). However, these systems are designed to promote close competition rather than compensate for FM incidents.

Maybe instead, competitors should be allowed to drop their worst timing penalties from the results – a consideration used in some other sports. Of course, the worst penalties could have been the result of a navigational error, but that doesn’t void the idea. A day’s worth of regularities is demanding enough to permit the elimination of one or two forgivable errors, and might produce a more worthy winner.

Running a whole regularity event over private land would be even better. And that’s not such a wild thought. Many stage/test venues are large enough to accommodate a series of long and circuitous courses. Forests and Caerwent on the Leukaekia, and Sculthorpe airfield on the East Anglia are recent examples; and there’s the promise of an off-road location on the Hughes in June.

However, I hope such speculative events wouldn’t adopt the practice seen on some private regularities: placing a manned PC a short distance before a TC and instructing the PC marshal to procrastinate over signing a time card. That’s a FM situation to be avoided since a marshal will never be able to ensure each crew is delayed by the same amount.

Daytime rallying should be a fair competition. We need the black and white utopia of a “level playing field”. The grey stuff associated with force majeure is frustrating, irritating and unnecessarily result damaging.