Anything Left-Handed > Blog Posts > Uncategorized > Why do sports go anti-clockwise?

Why do sports go anti-clockwise?

We had a comment on our sports page recently that got us thinking…

As far as running round a track is concerned, having watched the olympic speed skating where the athletes go around the track with their left leg on the inside, I feel disadvantaged because I would like my right leg to be on the inside. Do you know what I mean?
A.S. LEACH

We had a think about this and did some research and it is true that most sports, and in fact most other things involving some sort of circular movement, do go anti-clockwise.   For example:

  • Athletics track races
  • Track bicycle races
  • Speed skating
  • Roller derby
  • The customary flow of people around an ice-skating rink
  • The normal direction of dancers moving around a dance floor
  • Motorcycle speedway
  • NASCAR racing
  • Horse racing
  • Greyhound racing

And for good measure, a whole load of non-sporting activities:

  • Merry-go-rounds and other carnival rides
  • Revolving doors
  • The chariot race in Ben-Hur
  • The usual direction in which people spin Hula Hoops
  • Aircraft carrier landing patterns

There are a whole load of reasons given for this but a lot of it seems to come back to the fact that the majority of the population are right-handed and right-footed and that stronger right side makes it more efficient to move turning to the left.   When you push off with your right foot, it automatically pushes you in an anti-clockwise direction.

Other reasons given include (these are suggestions, not necessarily scientific or proven facts):

Athletics

IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations) Rule 163.1 states:

The direction of running shall be left-hand inside

http://www2.iaaf.org/TheSport/Technical/Tracks/TrackMeasurementReport.pdf

International agreement stipulating the direction related to the setting up of equipment to time the finishes and judge dead-heats (close finishes). If all running events are run in the same direction it means that it simplifies the process of setting up the equipment across different venues.

THE ancient Greeks may have run anti-clockwise round their stadia, but it is a mistake to assume that the tradition was unbroken until modern times. Contemporary illustrations show that when running on tracks was revived in the nineteenth century, clockwise running was probably just as common. Oxford and Cambridge universities ran clockwise – Oxford until 1948, Cambridge until some time later. The first modern Olympic Games in Athens (1896 and 1906) and Paris (1900) used the clockwise direction, but in 1906 there were complaints, as many countries had by then settled for the anti-clockwise practice. From 1908 the Games have all been run ‘left hand inside'.

The Superior vena-cava collects de-oxygenated blood to the heart aided by heart suction. This vein carries blood from left to right across the body. Centrifugal force due to anticlockwise running helps this suction. If we run clockwise, the centrifugal force impedes suction. Clockwise running tires people faster.

The human body is slightly heavier than the right because of the heart and when running anticlockwise, the body would tend to very slightly incline towards the left, which could be an advantage while running anticlockwise.

Because of the effect of the Earth's rotation, in the Northern Hemisphere an athlete running anti-clockwise will have a slight advantage, resulting in a faster time. In the Southern Hemisphere, this effect is reversed but, as the sport grew up in the Northern Hemisphere, anti-clockwise races have remained, despite the international status of athletics. Evidence of this phenomenon is that none of the current world track records have been set south of the Equator.

One suggestion is that runner go anti-clockwise so that that spectator will percieve the runners as moving left to right – the same direction our eyes move when we read (at least in the West, do runners go clockwise in countries that read from right to left?).

Motor racing

Motor racing is not quite so clear cut.   Oval tracks for stock-car racing are common in the United States and it has been suggested that they are anti-clockwise because in American stock cars the driver is on the left of the car and if he loses control and crashes into a wall the right side will absorb most of the impact. It is also easier for a driver on the left to turn to the left as he is looking towards the inside of the corner.   But none of this explains why stock car tracks in the United Kindom also run anti-clockwise, even thought the driver is seated on the right of the car!

In Australia, where they have a very active and popular oval track racing industry (AUSCAR), the cars run clockwise and turn right, not left.

Most Formula One tracks run clockwise. Of the 19 tracks in the 2014 season, only 4 run anti-clockwise – Austin, Texas USA; Sao Paolo, Brazil; Singapore; Abu Dhabi, UAE.   In F1, the driver sits centrally in a single seat car so driving position is not a factor.

Horse racing

The decision to run horses counterclockwise in the US dates to the American Revolution era. In 1780, the first circular US race track was established by William Whitley near his home in Lincoln County, Kentucky. A staunch supporter of the Revolution, Whitley insisted that horses race counterclockwise, as opposed to clockwise as was the custom at the time in England.

Now, most horseracing tracks in the UK run anti-clockwise, with some exceptions like Kempton, Ascot and Sandown.

Dancing

Greek mythology suggests that anything that goes clockwise is a sign of evil. People go anti-clockwise around the dancefloor as Queen Victoria enforced it, believing that if we went clockwise, we would be inciting the devil. That's at least why we go anti-clockwise in the UK.

Do you know more?

We usually find that our members know a lot more about things than we do, so if you have any more information or theories on any of this, we would be very interested to read your comments below!

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18 comments on “Why do sports go anti-clockwise?
  1. Joanel says:

    In the case gravitatioal pull, wouldn’t that affect only half the race? Also, Rio de Janiero is south of the equator, isn’t that right, South Africa and Ethiopia?

  2. G6JPG says:

    Not a sport of course (though some drivers seem to think otherwise!), but roundabouts on road systems obviously (?) go clockwise in countries that drive on the left, anticlockwise in the rest.

    There are one or two places I know of in the UK where there are huge roundabouts – or road circles – that are actually a ring of roundabouts, with two-way road sections in between. (At the entrance to Canvey Island is one example.) A lot less traffic goes the other way (i. e. does other than turn left)!

  3. Alf Milliken says:

    Aircraft carrier landing patterns are determined by the deck layout – the Imperial Japanese Navy operated at least one aircraft carrier that a clockwise pattern because the island was on the port side of the deck. The theory was that the carrier would operate with a “conventional” (i.e. starboard island) carrier with the two ships sailing with their islands adjacent to each other and launching and recovering aircraft together.
    Conventional carriers have to maintain separation to avoid one carrier’s aircraft flying into the other’s path.

  4. Andy Waterhouse says:

    I’m Left handed, right footed. I would spin a hula hoop clockwise.

  5. Lorin Andersen says:

    Baseball

  6. barry says:

    all main race tracks ie brands hatch, silverstone , lydden, mallory park ect all run clockwise

  7. Sandy says:

    I think races and other competitive events which involve clockwise and anti-clockwise movements should switch off, to even the playing field. Similar to how tennis players switch sides every game to make sure that the natural surroundings, most notably the Sun’s position, are not a factor in the match outcome.

  8. Daz Steeley says:

    I have always been a speedway fan and for some strange reason even though I’m left footed as well as left handed, when riding a push bike I feel comfortable leaning over on a right hand bend than on a left, in other words I couldn’t be a speedway rider because I would be going in a clockwise direction which would certainly cause a few collisions, not only that but I would prefer the foot peg/rest on the left side of the bike and also the throttle on the left can anyone explain why ?.

  9. Kath says:

    I did pottery for about 10 years at night school, of course we leftys have to have the potters wheel go the opposite way when throwing a pot, and work at the opposite side of the pot or your fingers just jab into the pot, there were 5 wheels, only 1 could be altered to go clockwise and anticlockwise, and it was the most popular wheel, I was forever waiting for my go! I am trying to remember the mechanics of it (it was a long time ago) I will need to see someone use a wheel to remember which way I needed it to go!

  10. Chandra says:

    Some religious places have clock-wise circumambulation around the deity or the place of worship.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circumambulation

  11. Birgit says:

    I’m going to have to test the hula hoop theory. I’m left handed and my daughter is cross dominant (left eyed and footed but right handed). I’m really curious to see which way round she does it.

  12. Ree says:

    I’ve always thought that clockwise was left-handed! Draw a circle with both hands, and you’ll draw clockwise with the left, and anti-clockwise with the right.

  13. Ian L says:

    The Stock Car thing I have to clarify for you. F1 Stock Cars (Short Oval) race in an anti-clockwise direction, they are purpose built and the driver is central to the wheelbase. Regular Hot Rods, Stock rods, Bangers and other such cars that race on these circuits race clockwise because, as you said, the majority of the car is between them and the wall in case of a crash. Of course, the exception to this rule, for the Bangers is the figure of 8, and the Destruction Derby (where you can drive any which way until the last car moving wins).
    The British version of the American NASCAR which used to (or may still) race at Rockingham Super Speedway do so in an anti-clockwise direction because they’re built to emulate the american stock cars with their left hand drive.
    Lastly, a further passion of mine, Formula 1. The drivers of these cars are central again to their wheelbase, but they still race in a clockwise direction AND an anti-clockwise direction, although, not at the same time, or on the same tracks.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Formula_One_circuits

  14. Cassie says:

    We used to go round the track clockwise when I was at school in the eighties

  15. Sue Hook says:

    I wondered if people went clockwise in Australia; does anyone know?

  16. Tera says:

    I sing with a coral group of about 80 people. I am one of only 2 people in the group who are left handed. For a recent performance we had to stomp left, right, left, right. For the life of me I couldn’t do it! So I did it the other way around. No one cared except the one lady on my right. She hounded me about that for weeks at performances. She just didn’t get it.

  17. Nancy Shepherd says:

    I live in a Bahrain, where they hold horse races during the winter; they race round the track in a clockwise direction. As to playing cards. I seem to remember that in Britain we deal in a clockwise direction, but Bahrainis deal anti-clockwise.

  18. Mike Rex says:

    Musselburgh Racecourse, near Edinburgh, runs in a clockwise direction.

1 Pings/Trackbacks for "Why do sports go anti-clockwise?"
  1. WHY DO ALL JOGGERS JOG ANTICLOCKWISE? | The Insouciant Ponytail says:

    […] The Internet has plenty of forums discussing why this might be so — both learned forums and crazy ones. The leading opinion seems to be that anticlockwise is more natural for people who are right-footed, which most of us are. Pushing off on your strongest side makes for a more efficient turn to the left.  […]

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