James Lawton: It's time sport embraced trial by TV replay

Click to follow
The Independent Football

Rudi Koertzen will not thank anyone for saying it but he has become the poster boy for all those who argue that it is absurd that cricket, having sold its soul to television so many times, has taken so long to accept an immutable fact.

It is that the technology of the industry that has colonised every area of world sport has long provided the means to avoid the kind of travesty that has become such an integral part of the Ashes series.

Later this year cricket will accept, finally and officially, that ignoring the problem that has emerged so reproachfully these last few weeks cannot be allowed to go on. In this sense Koertzen's personal Calvary has been somewhat historic.

Surely, it has swept away the old prejudices against innovations that have become morally vital, moves that sooner or later have to become standard across the whole spectrum of professional sport.

On Sunday Koertzen was said to have had a good day. This meant that he had not single-handedly devastated the natural balance of a Test match.

He hadn't reproduced the scale of the mistake he made two days earlier when he confounded Australian paceman Mitchell Johnson with his decision not to raise his finger when England's Ian Bell was seen by the wider world to have been arguably more out than any batsman ever subject to an lbw appeal.

You have to feel for Koertzen in that he came to Edgbaston under at least as much pressure as Australia's embattled captain Ricky Ponting.

At Lord's the South African official was adjudged to have made three serious mistakes, hugely influencing the course of the Second Test, and all to the cost of the Australians.

Then there was the Bell decision at a critical point at Edgbaston. This didn't seem to be an error as much as a message from above.

It wasn't so much to do with Koertzen's judgement as an unshakeable statement of two of life's realities, one eternal and the other more recent, that go a long way to providing a solution. High level sport will never expunge human error but video review, we have known for decades now, can wipe away most of its worst effects.

With some reluctance world cricket's ruling body, the ICC, will enshrine the electronic eye as a part of the game from October. The reluctance was partly because of the ancient view that officials have to retain authority imposed from above, that to place them under the ultimate supervision of the television camera is to strike a terminal blow at the notion of their infallibility, and that anyway all decisions, right and wrong, will inevitably "level out" in the course of a Test series. This is a competitive illiteracy.

In a sport where dalliance long ago reached such levels that Test captains became subject to fines for slow over rates, and as recently as last month in Cardiff we saw time-wasting enough to churn the stomach, the argument that a brief reference by a third official to the television evidence is an unacceptable intrusion into the flow of a game simply doesn't hold together.

In England's tour of the Caribbean earlier this year there was a tide of criticism against an experimental referral system. Too unwieldy, too calculated to break the natural spirit of a Test was the overwhelming verdict. In the latter case, of course, nothing could be further removed from reality. What could be more certain to pollute the atmosphere of any sporting contest than a sense of injustice that could, with official will, be so easily rectified?

Certainly the arguments against a referral system seemed puny enough at Lord's and at that moment when Johnson's face was overcome with disbelief at the survival of his victim Bell here at Edgbaston.

But if cricket has been slow to see the value of the least vulnerable to error of adjudication, what of the ultimate child of television – football?

In football all kinds of inconvenience is heaped upon the supporters by the TV schedulers but we are told that there isn't time to make referrals to a third official armed with the television evidence. It is a position that simply cannot be tenable as we approach the end of the first decade of the 21st century.

In the last World Cup final there was a suspicion that but for television evidence, unofficially applied, Zinedine Zidane might have escaped the repercussions of his head-butting of Italian defender Marco Materazzi. Despite such a salutary warning, however, football is emphatic that technology cannot be applied to the officiating of the world's most popular game. It is a wretched avoidance of the real world.

The question is simple and, sadly for Rudi Koertzen, unanswerably posed by events at Lord's and Edgbaston. It asks what is most important: fractions of time and the artificially preserved "dignity" of match officials or the imperative of getting things right?

We know Mitchell Johnson's answer and surely it will be echoed by all who have campaigned for the imposition of available justice. It is for the great events of sport to be settled so truly as to exceed what was once thought to be humanly possible. Or, to put it another way, make them subject to the wonderful process known as progress.

Wenger's values are a match for £100m City boys

All through the summer Arsenal supporters have been restive at the failure of Arsène Wenger to do what they believe is his duty, which is to say wade into the transfer market and make the vital signings that will maintain the club's place in the elite of English football.

They may, heaven knows, have a point, but certainly they have some considerable consolation.

It is that their team retain, whatever happens, a marvellous commitment to the quality of the football they play. Certainly it is true that in a week when Test cricket was reminding us of its vast superiority over any other money-grubbing form of the game, it was still wonderfully refreshing, even in this football-saturated age, to see Wenger's men at work against Rangers in the Emirates tournament.

What, you may ask, does a pre-season kickaround mean? Not so much, perhaps, beyond the fact that in this case it reminded us that Arsenal still have in Cesc Fabregas, Andrei Arshavin, Eduardo da Silva and the precocious Jack Wilshere players you would not only cross the street to see but negotiate quite a few motorways.

Arsenal fans have a genius for the expression of bewildered frustration but sometimes the rest of us are entitled to believe that they don't really know they are born.

Of course you pay your money and you take your choice and if winning titles is your ultimate measurement of success in football – and who can deny that it is? – well the Emirates is perhaps right not to be agog with anticipation for the coming season.

However, there are one or two things you can say with a degree of confidence. One is that the entertainment quota there will at times fly off the graph. The other is that it is a no-brainer that Arsenal will still finish above £100m, or whatever is at the latest count, Manchester City.

Rare talent for forgiveness sets the greats apart

There were many reasons for the warmth in so many of the tributes to the late Sir Bobby Robson and, speaking personally, probably not the least was his talent for forgiveness.

If you cut Bobby Robson he would bleed, sometimes quite profusely, but he would heal – and when he did there would be an understanding of the world in which he lived.

In this though he was very much the product of his age, a time when even the greatest of football managers were able to take the fiercest criticism with a shrug of the shoulders. They knew, after all, that their business exercised thoroughly the emotions of all those who followed it, and even a lot of those who wrote about it for a living.

A good example was when a colleague on the Daily Express, and The Independent cricket writer, Derek Hodgson felt obliged to make some biting criticism of the defensive system of Manchester City, who were managed by the great Everton, Arsenal and England half-back Joe Mercer (pictured). Hodgson's solution to the problem was to wall up the City goal with concrete.

Unfortunately, though perhaps inevitably, he was almost immediately required to call Mercer's home and check on a breaking news story. He got through to Mercer's wife, Nora, who, as always was both amiable and polite. However, Hodgson heard her say, "Joe, it's Mr Ready Mix."

They were gentler days, perhaps – and certainly gentler men.