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The future of the sporting world

In a rare moment of contemplation beyond my sporting remit yesterday I spent an idle hour considering the future of the world. My musings covered such minor issues as the general rush of technological advancement, the global media village, instant gratification, the incessant commercialisation of all things and even the infinite variety of human interests, as I shall now expand.

I don’t know about other Rusters, but for someone of my vintage it would seem that we are rapidly approaching saturation-point.

Take cricket, for example.

This week, with the England team on tour having moved to a 2-0 lead in the current ODI series against Sri Lanka via a reduced 21 over match thanks to the effects of the remnants of the local monsoon season – a situation directly caused by the host’s insistence given the crowded global playing schedule – I could not help but be confirmed in my view that there is an overload feel to the amount of international cricket being played.

These days to have played over 100 Test matches, and even in addition (if the player is adaptable enough) over 150 ODIs on top is fast becoming the norm.

This is a world away from my heyday of being a cricket obsessional as a boy when ‘Tich’ Freeman – all five feet two of him – was once the world record wicket-taker and Len Hutton’s 364 was the Test innings record (subsequently overtaken in 1958 by Garry Sobers’ 365 not out against Pakistan at Sabina Park, his maiden Test century incidentally).

Sadly, part of the reason that over the decades cricket has gradually lost its appeal for me is that there’s so much of it going on that either I cannot keep up, or should that be ‘cannot be bothered to’?

The worrying aspect is that I’m now gaining the impression that the same is applying to football, rugby, tennis and even the likes of Formula One, snooker, track and field, boxing (and let’s not consider that there are four or five different world bodies that each have their own champions at every weight), swimming … and just about every other sport and game you could care to nominate.

I guess you could file these sentiments under the heading ‘Familiarity breeds contempt’.

Call me an old git if you like, but in the era when visits to the UK by the Australian and West Indian cricket teams – and indeed their All Blacks rugby union equivalent – routinely took place about once every decade, these were sporting events of undeniably epic importance and influence.

Those were, of course, the days when men were men and boys were boys and inevitably – and rightly – these sporting giants were objects of huge interest.

I can still just about recall being taken by my father to see one of the minor games on the 1963/1964 All Blacks tour of Britain – the one captained by the balding Wilson Whineray – and for a 12 year old boy it was like witnessing a visit by aliens from Mars.

Contrast that with the modern era in which each rugby country plays three or four times as many Test matches per annum as was once the case and routinely jets around the world with as little concern than as if it is commuting from Reading to London.

Call that progress? I prefer dilution and reduction.

But then again, the demands of money, sponsorship, television, the internet and consumer interest are paramount, aren’t they?

Ah well.

Overnight I alighted upon the rugby story that Bath – who lost 20-22 at home last weekend to Toulouse in the European Champions Cup, ultimately thanks to a schoolboy error by fly half Freddie Burns who, whilst showboating having crossed the try-line for what would have been the winning score, was surprised from behind by an opponent who knocked the ball out of his hand as he was about to dot it down –are appealing to the authorities for the match to be ‘cancelled out’ and replayed.

Their grounds are apparently that firstly, the referee blew the final whistle early whilst there was still technical time on the clock for Bath to take a line-out close to the Toulouse line; and secondly, that citings against two Toulouse players have now been upheld which – had they been dealt with during the game (as arguably they should have been) – would have meant that Toulouse would have been down to 13 men and thereby at a significant advantage.

My own view – having watched the game on television – is that Bath’s claims are baloney and are covered by the vagaries of refereeing in the moment.

And yet.

I’m sure in common with other Rusters – if I try hard enough – I could come up with tens of sporting examples in which a competitor or team was undoubtedly rendered hard done by via an official’s blunder and/or inadvertent mistake. Hitherto, of course, such outrages have always historically been put down (by those supporting both offended and/or offender) as part of the rich tapestry and folklore of life and sport.

But supposing. Supposing that, because of the advance of technology, it was possible to review with total accuracy the tapes of every sporting contest. (It probably already is).

If that’s the case, then why aren’t there (say) five-day moratoriums upon the results of all sporting contests – just to give time to check the validity/correctness of the officials’ decisions … after which, if all was fine, the match result could be confirmed as being what it was as witnessed live on the day.

Or, if there were two – or say five – instances of bad/wrong decisions, a judging panel could change the official result in order to give a ‘more’ correct one. [Albeit that, as my father would say, you cannot have a ‘more correct’ decision, something is either correct or it’s not].

Think of the advantage of such a system. If the technological means is available to enable proper justice, why not use it?

Obviously, one contrary argument would be “But what about the 45,000 spectators that actually attended that Manchester City v Burnley match on the day – and went home that evening believing that it had been a 1-0 home win for City – when the post-match judging panel has now decreed that in fact it was a 1-1 draw?”

Big issues.

Or are they?

In some Brave New World future, why have real-life players at all?

This would save players suffering prospective training injuries, long-term health problems, even get rid of those nefarious player agents.

We could have player-avatars instead.

We could engineer it that the fictional stadium (that every team plays in) always has an apparently full 90,000 full house and noise to match. The results could be determined by computer, taking into account the avatars that each club has amassed, adjusted perhaps by a random chance element, just to keep things interesting …

What’s not to like?

[As I was typing this, I had a vague feeling that perhaps I shouldn’t have had that third gin & tonic before going to bed last night].

About Tom Hollingworth

Tom Hollingsworth is a former deputy sports editor of the Daily Express. For many years he worked in a sports agency, representing mainly football players and motor racing drivers. Tom holds a private pilot’s licence and flying is his principal recreation. More Posts