This week, our columnist trying to relive the glory days of Grade 6 football, Joshua Jayde, provides a unique view on the world of sport.
A Week in Replay
What a fantastic week. The Rugby World Cup is in full swing, having begun with some tight heavyweight battles and a host of minnows fighting it out for the dubious honour of finishing fourth in a five team pool. In Europe, football is finding its (haha) feet, with the top leagues beginning to take shape and the boring part of the Champions League, well, basically just happening in the background. Stateside, the NFL… well… no-one really cares about the NFL.
But more important than all of this is the sheer amount of controversy that sport is generating. Was it a goal, or was the player’s left toenail offside by less than the width of her perfectly-arranged hair? Did that Australian shoulder-charge a Fijian’s face, or did the Fijian head-butt Reece Hodge’s moving shoulder? Above all, if we replay the incident a hundred times, will it allow us, heroic couch referees, to warp reality and make us actually more right than the officials? The answers to those questions may never be known.
But wait, isn’t there a way to solve these controversies? What about the Video Umpire/Third Match Official/Official Couch Referee?
NFL, both codes of rugby, cricket and football, all now have systems in place to try and solve these issues. But, far from removing controversy, these technologies actually provide more of it. Let’s take rugby to start. In the first weekend of the World Cup, there were a number of crucial calls that brought TMO, as it is called in this code, into the spotlight. In the South Africa v New Zealand game, the TMO, against the laws of the game, suggested a professional foul should only warrant a penalty. But worse, even with TMO, the referees missed a number of crucial calls across three matches. Firstly, in the Australia vs Fiji, the Wallabies outside back Reece Hodge shoulder-charged and injured Fijian star Peceli Yato. This could warrant as much as a red card, yet the referee and TMO both did not see it. Add that to the number of offsides, notably two intercepts in the France v Argentina and Springboks v All Blacks games which resulted in a try and a penalty. In fact, the last ten minutes of the France v Argentina game was riddled with French offsides and cynical fouls as the men in blue defended a crucial two point lead. The TMO is supposed to stop teams doing that, but it failed, leaving Argentina facing an unjust early exit from the tournament.
But even when video refereeing is called into play, it creates a mess. Take football, whose VAR is creating a commentary storm. Late in a tense Napoli v Liverpool game, VAR was called in to confirm a penalty against Liverpool fullback Andy Robertson. On review, it was clear to all viewers that the Napoli forward threw himself forward to milk a penalty – everyone except the people upstairs. The penalty was given, and Napoli took the win. This is just one of about a million such controversies, with any brush of a hand, any millimetre of hair offside, and any touch on a player in the box resulting in VAR mayhem.
Both VAR and TMO, as well as the bunker in rugby league and the NFL equivalent, have been in the headlines frequently. But that’s half the problem. Sports commentators – who, by the way, are just glorified couch referees – the world over have criticised every decision these systems make. The same people who complain bitterly against the injustice of refereeing calls are now complaining bitterly about the debatable justice of video refereeing calls. They all sound the same: “how dare this system correctly call my team offside! It ruins the game, makes the players depressed and just isn’t (insert sport here)”. When it doesn’t work, people are quick to attack it, and when it gets it right, people grumble about how it didn’t go their way.
So, should we get rid of it, given that it seems to add, not solve, controversy? I would argue no, keep it exactly the way it is. Controversy is the best part of sport, not least because it gives me something to write about. What would there be to talk about? What would the point of watching be, if not to complain about how the world is out to get us? So I think that video refereeing should be left alone, with all its flaws, and come Monday morning we can bash the incompetent officials who think they know better than us, champions of sport, the couch referees.
Go the All Blacks!
…Until they lose to Canada.