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Sport – a new crisis point, or a crossroads?

It borders upon the inevitable and clichéd to say that in the 21st Century the average sports fan could be forgiven for doubting everything he or she ever believed about the integrity of elite sporting contests.

Cycling … FIFA … the IAAF … performance-enhancing drugs … unequal division of the spoils of broadcasting rights … blatant breaking of rules and regulations by clubs being ‘swept under the carpet’ and/or ignored and ‘buried’, simply because too often sports administrative and regulatory authorities come with in-built meek DNA (“Do not worry – we’ll apply the rules only as rigidly as suits everyone …”). The comfy bottom line is that they wouldn’t want to upset anybody – whether corporate entity or powerful individual – especially not those who are enjoying success and/or ‘top status’ within the current set-up.

Now we can add the ‘tennis match-fixing’ scandal to the cricket one … and, er … the football ones and horse racing ones of yester-year.

In common with many others I talk to, I am uncertain as to whether to be glad that all these ‘difficulties’ are being exposed and aired … or alternatively dismayed at how my love of sport has been betrayed (assuming that even half of what is rumoured to have been going on is true).

I’d go further when it comes to the subject of video technology.

My reaction to the tale of last Saturday’s late over-time ‘offside’ equaliser by John Terry in the 3-3 draw between Chelsea and Everton in the Premier League is that – this week, after a referral by some ‘fourth official’ in authority, the result of the game should be reviewed and, if Terry is adjudged to have been offside, the goal should be disallowed and the record altered to show the result minus that goal.

What possible consolation can it be for any ‘hard done’ Team X and its supporters that to the query (e.g. in a trivia quiz) “What was unusual about Team Y’s victory over Team X in soccer’s 2048 World Cup Final?” the answer is that it was actually nailed-on proven to have been offside?

My attitude is that once you agree to let video technology into a sport – this, after all, presumably in order to raise the chances of all scores awarded being de facto legitimate on the evidence – you ought to jolly well look at the video evidence as a matter of course. Better a slightly delayed decision than the wrong one.

Logic and fairness demands that one day, upon any ‘apparent’ score (or e.g. dismissal in cricket), the referee should automatically go straight to the TMO for confirmation one way or the other, actually or impliedly asking him “Is there any reason I cannot award this score (or dismissal)?”

Yes, initially some might point to a theoretical risk of riots taking place at soccer matches if the home side’s apparent winner or late equaliser is disallowed. However, personally I’d run that risk because – within a month or so of instigating a ‘automatic video review’ regime – crowds, pundits and team coaches would get used to it and ultimately also benefit from it.

It would certainly help to stop managers’ post-match interviews getting them into trouble as they rant over a penalty given to the opposition, or one not given to their team … (“Our goal was never offside!” becomes pointless when the video footage can show definitively whether it was or not).

As it is, this week football and its supporters are having to deal with the fact that John Terry was awarded an offside goal – some of them hiding, happily or otherwise, behind the old-school maxim that ‘the referee is the final and only maker of decisions on the day’.

But why should he be, e.g. if he gets those decisions provably wrong on the evidence?

In my view, a football referee and his linesmen should be arbiters of all decisions during a match, and indeed for keeping discipline on the field of play, but it seems to me that no harm would be done if this general rule gave way, in circumstances where an apparent goal appears (or is claimed) to have been scored, to an automatic video referral upstairs.

I’m putting this forward as an opinion despite the ironic fact that – for television viewers, who now often get to see for themselves the repeated play-backs of video footage whenever a decision is referred upstairs – it irritates greatly when the TMO then appears to get his decision wrong, whichever way it goes!

That said, ultimately it has to be the case that some authority figure or another must be left to form a view … and the rest of us just have to live with it. I’m just suggesting that the TMO should be that person where video technology is available and being used, i.e. rather the on-pitch officials.



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