Anything Left-Handed > 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?

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):


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

The direction of running shall be left-hand inside

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.


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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