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Pan Am’s weirdest rules


Photo by [ Greg ] licensed CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

All athletes must play by the rules – even if some of them seem a little strange. Let’s look into the rulebook for some of the most unusual rules for Pan Am sports:

In archery, each arrow must be marked with the competitor’s name or initials. Rules also state that the archer has just 40 seconds to shoot each arrow.

According to the baseball rulebook, if a pitched ball gets stuck in the umpire’s or catcher’s mask or equipment and remains out of play, all runners get to advance one base.

In basketball, if a player intentionally hangs on the hoop after a slam dunk, he or she receives a foul. In case you’re curious, the official name for the rule violation is “a non-unsportsmanlike technical foul.” In pro ball, the foul will also get a player a $500 fine.

Two mens' beach volleyball teams facing off. Courtesy of Volleyball Canada.

(courtesy of Volleyball Canada)

In beach volleyball, the official rules state that opposing teams must wear different coloured uniforms. If both teams arrive to a match wearing jerseys of the same colour, a coin toss takes place to determine which team has to go and change.

In fencing, if a competitor leaves the piste (say “peest”) – the platform where the match takes place – he or she admits defeat. In one famous incident, a South Korean fencer named Shin A Lam disagreed with the judges when they ruled she’d lost her Olympic match. She asked that the results be reconsidered. As she waited for a final ruling, Lam had to stay on the piste for 45 minutes. She sat on the playing surface in front of the crowd and sobbed. In the end, the judges’ decision stuck, and Lam lost her match.

In football (soccer), if a throw-in goes directly into the net without touching a player, the goal does not count. This will result in a corner kick for the opposing team.

In golf, a player is instantly disqualified if he or she does not sign the scorecard at the end of play.


Bowing is a signal of respect in judo. According to the rules, contestants must bow before stepping onto the mat. They must also bow to each other before and after practice or competition.

Swimmers are allowed to stand during a 10-km race in open-water swimming. But official rules say that they cannot walk or jump along.

Canadian rhythmic gymnast Patricia Bezzoubenko

Patricia Bezzoubenko (courtesy CBC Sports)

While performing in rhythmic gymnastics, athletes use equipment like hoops, balls, clubs, and ribbons. The rules say that if one of these items gets stuck in the ceiling or breaks, the gymnast must keep going with the routine. There’s no starting over. Sometimes this is a real challenge since these items are often an important part of the performance.

According to rugby rules, if the ball falls off the tee - a little gadget used to help a player kick the ball off the ground - before a player hits or kicks it off, it can’t be placed back on until a referee grants permission. Ref, may I?

The rules for shooting say that all competitors, officials, and spectators must turn off their cell phones on the shooting range. In fact, signs that state this rule must be displayed for spectators. It sounds a little odd until you consider how important it is for these athletes to have no distractions.

If your hat falls off in the middle of a tennis match, your opponent can call for a “let” – that’s a fancy way of saying a “do-over” – because it’s a distraction. A let will also be called if a tennis ball falls out of your pocket during play. 

Female wrestlers in competition

Photo by US Army licensed CC BY 2.0 

Hankies are required in wrestling. Rules state that each wrestler must have a cloth handkerchief with him or her during the whole match. The cloth, also called a bloodrag, is carried in the wrestler’s uniform. It’s used to stop any bleeding and clean up any mess that may be made on the mat.