The other night I turned off two different codes of football on the TV and highlights of a cricket match in quick succession. The reason was the same. Each game was halted because of intervention by the off-field referee – the bane of TV replays. They may be OK for line calls in cricket and tennis, but they are a pest elsewhere. And it is hard to see how we might get rid of that pest if the overwhelming majority of the audience of the game is watching by TV – and has access to replays whether the broadcaster offers it or not.
More than twenty years of watching the NRL have convinced me that this apparatus does not so much settle arguments as inflame them. FIFA is now finding that out – including in the final of the World Cup. We are not talking about sport so much as entertainment, and stopping the game negates that. It may also stop a side that has momentum. Teams go to some length to slow games down when it suits them, and now an invisible official can do that for them. We are acquiring evidence that suggests that if you invest officials with power, they may feel neglected unless they are seen to exercise it. And heaven only knows what all this quibbling on technology does for our kids. Sport is supposed to teach them how to lose and how to go with the call of the dice or the rub of the green. This hair-splitting does the reverse.
The rugby union game I turned off was the worst. Two New Zealand sides were playing in Fiji. The score was 40+ to nil at halftime. Then the loser scored two quick exciting tries and, as they say, it was game on! But wait! If you rolled the film of play back 50 meters there was a bubble in play that may have been a knock-on. After a few minutes of replay, the second try was disallowed. I snapped off in disgust.
Apart from ruining the game – either as a game to be enjoyed by those playing it or as a spectacle put on by professionals to entertain us – there seemed to me to be a problem of fairness, if not jurisprudence.
I assume that the rules of the game allow for this process of reviewing and over-riding the on-field referee by the invisible hand, as Adam Smith may have put it, but that is not the end of it. A knock-on is against the rules in either form of rugby because you must pass the ball backwards. (I am tentative because I was brought up with AFL footy.) As I understand it, most knock-ons are accidental – deliberate knock-ons attract different responses or penalties. The penalty that is awarded where the on-field referee calls the knock-on can usually be justified on the grounds of fairness because it represents a kind of award to the other side for applying sufficient pressure force the error – or it is just a smack for a mess up. But the penalty consists of putting down a scrum with the side infringed against having the put in. It must then apply its skills to get the benefit of that play. When a penalty is offered and taken by a shot for goal, the side infringed against has to have someone who can kick it – and a lot may turn on where on the ground the offence occurred. But where a try is disallowed because of a prior knock-on, the infringer is penalised, and to the tune of five points rather than two, without the other side having to do anything.
That does not seem right – to put it at its lowest. There is no correlation between the offence and the penalty. The penalty is awarded in fact (de facto) rather than by law (de iure) but its extent is determined by events after the breach of the rules. That is why the penalty does not match the crime. One reason that I have been following rugby is that the refereeing is much better, in my view, than in other codes. T V is fast eroding that benefit.
Some rules say that the invisible hand can only interfere where the infringement is ‘clear’ and ‘obvious’. What is the difference? And how do you answer those who say that little in rugby is ‘clear’ or ‘obvious’? What about stipulating that the infringement must look to have had consequences for the play? Referees have to make calls like that in awarding penalty tries. The fact that the on-field referee did not notice the offence may itself suggest that it was inconsequential. What about saying that in each case the referee must make a call and that unless within say ten seconds the off-field referee is satisfied that that decision was plainly wrong, it stands? What about reserving reviews for the side aggrieved and limiting their right to call for them – as happens in cricket?
Something must be done. When did you last see an umpire call a fast bowler for a no-ball? And what decent person wants to do a job where you get hung out to dry before millions of people? And at least if the bloke in the middle buggers it up, you know whom to abuse.
Trump as President is doing a great deal of good and a great deal of bad. Judging the balance is exceptionally difficult. If you denounce Trump you are destroying the good; if you endorse Trump, you are denying the bad. Yet the essence of strategic effect is correctly diagnosing reality.
The Australian, 14 July 2018, Greg Sheridan.
The problem with our politics. Two fallacies followed by a nostrum. We should be able to handle conflicting views. Our failure leads to people like Trump. Keats said:
…..at once it struck me what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in Literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously—I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.