In sports (particularly racing sports like swimming, track, or motor sports), a false start is committed by a competitor who starts before being signaled to do so. In some instances, a false start can immediately disqualify an athlete from further competition, but more often a single warning is given. False starts are looked for in sprint races especially, where the fractions of a second gained could make the difference between winning and losing.
In sprints, sensors on the starting blocks of each athlete's lane are used to detect false starts. Since 2003, IAAF rules state that after any false start committed, all athletes are warned. Any subsequent false start by any athlete leads to immediate disqualification. Previously disqualification occurred only after the same athlete false-started twice.
In horse racing, there was a false start at the beginning of the 2006 Preakness when Barbaro broke through the gate. Barbaro was then led around to the rear of the gate (and into it for the second time), and the race was then started properly. But Barbaro broke a leg very shortly afterward and had to be pulled up; after eight months of treatment, he was euthanized due to complications.
In American football, a false start is movement by an offensive player after they have taken a set position. For offensive linemen, this movement might be as minute as a couple of centimeters. A false start brings a penalty of five yards.
At the end of the 2005-2006 NFL season, owners complained regarding false start penalties on players whose flinches have little effect upon the start of the play, such as wide receivers. In response, the NFL competition committee has said that they plan to inflict fewer false start penalties on players who line up behind the line of scrimmage.
On television broadcasts, usually those that are live, a false start is an intro to a song that is quickly cut short to another song. One famous example is Elvis Costello playing "Radio Radio" on Saturday Night Live.
Some versions of the Beatles' song "I'm Looking Through You", which appeared on Rubber Soul album in both the UK and the U.S., have false starts at the beginning.