MYTHS AND FACTS – RELAYS – by Kirsteen Farrance

IAAF RULES 170.1 TO 170.21

The rules for relays have been clarified in the 2014-2015 IAAF Competitions Rules (blue book). This has found some teams being disqualified and some officials not understanding the clarifications. Hope, this will assist you.


  • If you drop the baton, you will be disqualified!
  • If you run out of your lane during the baton pass, you will be disqualified!
  • If you run out of the takeover zone without changing the baton, you will be disqualified!
  • If you cross the finish line without the baton, you will be disqualified!

There are circumstances where these things do NOT lead to disqualification and it is important that officials are able to distinguish these varying situations and make correct decisions accordingly.

Hopefully, the explanations and examples will assist you to make the correct decision. Of course, we all know that we usually don’t have the luxury of lots of umpires to judge incoming and outgoing runners. So, it is really important that you position yourself and your team at the takeover zone to make sure you can see what you are meant to see! And, know what you are looking for!

If you haven’t done so already, download a copy of The Referee from the IAAF website (

The diagrams are really good and it’s free!!

The following applies to all relays:

  1. Takeover zones are measured from the leading edge of the first line making the takeover zone to the leading edge of the second line marking the takeover zone (The Referee, Page 100)
  2. The acceleration zone is measured from the leading edge of the line marking the acceleration zone (The Referee, Page 100)
  3. The baton must be carried by hand throughout the race. The athlete cannot wear gloves or use any substance on their hands to obtain a better grip (IAAF Rule 170.6)
  4. No pushing or other form of propulsion
  5. Officials are responsible for placing the athletes in the correct lane, or order and making sure the athlete understands the acceleration zone, check marks etc (IAAF Rule 170.3 and 170.4). The Referee, pages 101-103, provides a very handy check list for every relay.

Many of our club athletes have not been coached in how to run relays, pass batons or are familiar with the rules! Unless someone from their club has told them or they have received specific relay coaching, often, club athletes will not know the rules 0especially juniors and new athletes. It is wrong of us, as officials, to assume they have somehow absorbed the rules and know what they are doing!! It is incumbent upon us as officials, to make sure athletes are aware of the rules. This applies to any event, not just relays. If a disqualification does occur, then we must make sure that all relay team members understand the reason!


One of the hazards of any relay race is an athlete dropping the baton! Whilst, this won’t make for a fast time, it doesn’t necessarily mean the team is disqualified!

As long as the athlete who dropped the baton:

  • Retrieves the baton
  • May leave the lane to do so
  • Doesn’t impede another runner
  • And returns to where the baton was dropped (ie does not lessen the distance travelled in the race)

The team can proceed in the race! (IAAF Rule 170.6c)

The official at the takeover zone should:

  • Wait to see what the athletes concerned will do
  • Know who dropped the baton
  • Watch who retrieves the baton
  • Do they impede any other athletes in the race?
  • Do they come back to where the baton was dropped (eg if the baton rolls away) or lessen the distance run?

What the official observes will determine if a red or white flag is raised.


As we know, this often happens with inexperienced relay runners! What should be a non-visual change in the 4x100m relay, is usually performed with the outgoing runner looking backwards whilst trying to run forwards!

Unless another athlete is impeded or the athlete lessens the distance run, this usually shouldn’t result in a disqualification.

Before receiving and/or after handing over the baton, athletes should maintain their lane or position until the coast is clear to avoid obstructing another athlete. As stated in IAAF Rule 170.8, Rules 163.3 and 163.4 (Obstruction rules) do not apply UNLESS the athlete (either incoming or outgoing) wilfully impedes another athlete.


This is where the rule has been clarified and has brought many a team undone in Shield and Relay competitions the season!

  1. The pass has commenced when the outgoing runner FIRST TOUCHES the baton!
  2. The pass has been completed when the baton is ENTIRELY in the hand of the outgoing runner.
  3. This MUST ALL happen with the baton being INSIDE the takeover zone

The red flag should be raised if:

  1. The first touch occurs when the baton is outside the zone. Even if the incoming runner has a couple of attempts to get the baton in the outgoing runner’s hand, it is the FIRST touch you are looking for and where it happens.
  2. If the incoming AND outgoing runner both have their hands on the baton when they exit the takeover zone (ie baton is outside the zone). The baton must be entirely in the outgoing runner’s hand when the outgoing runner leaves the takeover zone.


The biggest issue in 4x400m relays at Shield level is for the third and fourth runners knowing what to do!! Again, it is important that officials give clear and concise instructions and not assume that athletes know what they are meant to do! Even if you think the athletes know the rules or think they should know the rules, it is always a wise official who clarifies the rules with the athletes to avoid confusion. It only takes a few seconds!

Third and Fourth runners:

  1. Are lined up according to the position of their incoming runner as they enter the last bend (ie at the 200m mark), but are not allocated to a lane
  2. Cannot change their order once placed on the track even if their runner to overtaken in the last 200m
  3. Cannot straddle the line at the beginning of the takeover zone or use an acceleration zone.
  4. Must start inside the takeover zone
  5. May move towards lane 1 as teams before them leave, but cannot change order to achieve this

The definition of a baton pass (discussed above) still applies.



NSW Girls Under 16 4x100m relay team has been training hard and are out to win the Al Schools title. The second runner starts her run when the first runner reaches the marker tape. The second runner thrusts her hand back on her third stride and all is going to plan.

Whilst the second runner is about to step into the takeover zone, her hand extended back behind her is still outside the takeover zone. The first runner reaches forward and just touches the baton on the extended hand. The first runner realises her mistake and withdraws the baton. They then complete the pass within the takeover zone.

What would you do and why?

The NSW Team is disqualified and the Victorian team goes on to take out the title! Is this decision correct?


The last runner in a 4x400m relay is about 10m from the finish line and accidently hits his leg with the baton. The baton flies off and lands on the infield and the runner cross the line without the baton.

The runner, a very knowledgeable fellow, hurries back to collect the baton. He then steps back into lane one at about the place he dropped the baton. He completes the race with the baton in his hand and does not impede any other runner.

What would you do and why?

The runner was not disqualified and the team was placed according to the ‘second’ finish of the last runner when he had the baton in his hand. Is this decision correct?


It is All Schools Championships and the men’s Under 18 4x100m final. The race has progressed to the second takeover zone and the race is tight. The third runners have already been placed in their lanes, the acceleration zone and relevant rules have been explained.

The Victorian team is in lane three and the third runner is standing inside the acceleration zone with his eyes on his marker and the incoming runner. The heel of his right foot is on the acceleration zone line, but not over it.

The second runner comes charging in, but the third runner is getting anxious and takes off far too early! The second runner cannot get anywhere near the third runner and they both run out of the end of the takeover zone without the baton touching the third runner’s hand.

The boys then quickly go back inside the takeover zone, complete the pass within the takeover zone. The third runner then takes off after the rest of the field. They did not obstruct any other runner in doing this.

What would you do and why?

The Victorian team was not disqualified and results stood (alas, no medal this time). Is this decision correct?

Athletics Victoria & Athletics New South Wales Officials Exchange Program

New Officials exchange program with Athletics Victoria and Athletics New South Wales was released late last year allowing three officials from both organizations to travel to the others State Junior Track and Field Championships in February this year.

There were a large number of high quality nominations received and congratulations to Sally Hockey, Peter Westwood and Michael Lindstrom who were the successful candidates who will now be travelling to NSW on the weekend of February 6 to 8 to Officiate at the Athletics New South Wales Junior & Youth Championships at Sydney Olympic Athletics Centre.

Alternatively we will welcome Ann Grimm, Katrina Morrow and Rob Jones who were the successful candidates from NSW joining us at the Victorian Junior Track and Field Championships the following weekend at Lakeside stadium.



Michael Lindstrom


Peter Westwood and Sally Hockey