A bout of moaning sickness

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The Independent Online
TO THESE untrained eyes the criteria employed in the judgement of ice dancing are beyond comprehension.

Taking personal experiences into account, if the skaters remain upright I award a perfect six for technical merit. Unless the lady's legs are in the Naomi Campbell category, less than four for artistic impression. Let me hear a Gershwin tune and they get it, guaranteed. Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, whoever.

That's the beauty of ignorance. It gets you off the hook. Torvill and Dean? Gritschuk and Platov? Usova and Zhulin? Gold, silver or bronze? I wouldn't know. The whole thing is a mystery appropriate to the spurious theory that ice dancing is a sport.

Ignorance is not what could be inferred this week from the agitated response to happenings in Lillehammer. With nothing but a romantic ideal to go on, hostages to hyperbole, millions of instant experts raged against the marks that brought down Torvill and Dean.

That there are knowledgeable people who believe that Torvill, at 36, is no longer lithe enough to gain an unblemished mark didn't enter the conclusions. It had been all over bar the shouting, then suddenly it wasn't, at least not to British satisfaction. So Torvill and Dean were seen to be victims of a conspiracy. Hard done by. Robbed. Predictably, the notion was taken up in headlines.

Suggesting that she has been living in a cave without the benefit of news delivery or knows something the CIA hasn't made known, Dean's fiancee, the American skater, Jill Trenary, lit the fires of suspicion when she said: 'I may be biased, but there were three Soviet judges on the panel. They all talk to each other to make sure their people win.'

To be sure, arbiters in sport are subject to many of the same ailments that attack humans, but the frequency with which they are held responsible for British sporting disappointments is pathetic and an insult to tradition.

England's failure to qualify for this year's World Cup finals was the result of muddled management, technical flaws and misplaced priorities not a referee's mistake in Rotterdam. But it was the error of judgement that patriots took hold of. Robbed again.

By all accounts the umpires assigned to the first Test in Jamaica are respected as men of wise and independent virtue who apply the rules diligently. They must have got their reputation from somewhere but it lasted only until England's batsmen, especially the captain, Mike Atherton, came under heavy fire.

In the Daily Mail yesterday, Ian Wooldridge took it upon himself to squeal for them. Greatly respecting Wooldridge in these matters I am not inclined to dismiss his views lightly. He blames not the umpires nor the West Indian fast bowlers, but the International Cricket Council for failing to legislate against the possibility of manslaughter. It was powerful stuff and perfectly timed, which is more than can be said about most of England's batting.

However, we are on dangerous ground here. Seeing things in a different light is not an unfamiliar experience to veteran observers of sport, though, surprisingly, it is rarely anticipated by our younger brethren. A rank injustice in their eyes is sometimes simply the rub of the green in ours. You learn along the way. 'Don't get upset by the referee's decisions,' the great Celtic manager, Jock Stein, said before a Scottish Cup final. 'Take the bad with the good. They'll even out.'

That used to be a cornerstone of British sport, giving rise to widespread admiration and respect. Now we are becoming known as moaners.

The lowest mark accorded to Torvill and Dean - 5.6 for technical merit - came from a German judge, Ingrid Reetz, who has nearly 20 years experience. 'My opinion was given honestly,' she said. 'Perhaps all three pairs deserved to be standing together on the podium.'

Reetz sounds like a fair-minded woman to me. You lose some, you win some. And that should be the end of it.

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