Friday, April 14, 2006

Written for the USC Triathlon Newsletter 04-14-06

In studies of Japanese society, scholars are repeatedly taken by the dichotomy between the nature of Japanese media content and the behavior of Japanese society. Japanese media is often observed as being rife with violent imagery, particularly the youth-oriented manga and anime, which feature graphic expressions that would blanche the constitution of the typical Western censor. In contrast, sociologists, anthropologists, and historians have noted that modern Japanese society itself is surprisingly bereft of violence or sociopathic behavior, with international indices consistently ranking Japan below the United States and Western European countries in terms of the incidence of violent crime.

This schism between art and reality has posed a challenge to Western (particularly American) figures who have argued that violent crime is directly attributable to violent art, and that violence in media is responsible for inciting violence in the public.

People of various cultures have speculated as to the capacity of Japanese culture to maintain order despite the chaotic nature of their media, and in what ways American culture fails to suppress violence while Japanese culture succeeds.
Some have argued that Japanese art is simply a publicly condoned peaceful release of subconscious emotions suppressed by a society centered around public order, while American art suffers from a Puritan code that accepts public freedom but stifles media expression so far as to create a pent-up cauldron of suppressed emotions that must still vent into society.

Others have pointed out to a fundamental difference in philosophical orientation made in grade school. In Japan, children are taught that there is a benefit to order and a cost to chaos, and that conformity of individuals to a social code ensures the maintenance of order and avoidance of chaos. In the U.S., scholars argue that children are taught the principles of a free democratic society and the importance of the individual, and that chaos is an inherent component of a free society. For such scholars, Japanese society perceives rules as having absolute benefits and so call upon compliance to rules to propagate those benefits, whereas American society perceives rules as having benefits only to the degree that they do not impinge upon the individual and so call upon violations of rules if necessary to protect the individual.

In short, the issue here is rules. Rules that hold society together. Rules that hold an organization together. Rules that hold a sport together.

Do we as athletes, as individuals, as citizens follow those rules?

In triathlon, there are rules to follow. Race officials--from the collegiate to professional--have recently begun issuing declarations regarding the enforcement of rules. This is in response to the growing number of rule infractions that are being witnessed on race courses. Whether a product of the growing popularity of triathlon, or a product of a culture that perceives rules as arbitrary, these infractions have become epidemic enough to warrant admonishment from triathlon organizations (including the WCCTC, USAT, and WTC).

Following some public statements (and not so subtly veiled e-mails) from these organizations, we're going to review some basic rules:
1) Drafting: allowed on the swim, NOT ALLOWED on the bike (unless you are in the Professional division of an ITU-rules race). drafting is defined as staying within 3 bike lengths of the rider in front of you.
2) Passing: on the bike, pass ON THE LEFT, and do so WITHIN 15-20 seconds--otherwise, drop back out of the drafting zone. it is an infraction to pass on the right. on the swim and bike, pass on either side with courtesy (i.e., don't trip or push, don't ball your hand into a fist and smack the person across the jaw)
3) Blocking: if someone is passing you (on the bike or run), STAY ON THE RIGHT and allow them 15-20 seconds to pass. it is otherwise an infraction to impede someone from passing. on the swim, allow people who are trying to pass to do so. again, show courtesy (i.e., don't trip or push, don't punch somebody with an uppercut to the jaw or a roundhouse to the kidney).
4) NO LITTERING. littering is defined as discarding anything off your person, including gel packets, tubes, tissues, or bottles outside a safe discard zone (which is usually marked around an aid station or transition).
5) Helmets: chin straps must be strapped at all times while on the bike
6) Behavior to volunteers and race officials: believe it or not, this is considered an infraction. generally, it's up to the receiving party to determine if an athlete's behavior is considered abusive, but nevertheless it is considered an infraction. sometimes you're going to get a race official on a very bad day and he's going to make your local speed-trap CHP officer look like your grandmother's teddy bear.

Penalties for infractions vary, and may consist of time (extra minutes added to your ride), penalty laps (as in go to a designated area and keep swimming/biking/running for a fixed amount of time before continuing on the race course), or disqualification and termination of the race.

To review USAT rules, you may reference:

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