Outrage goes against one's better judgement

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The Independent Online
THANKS to Torvill and Dean the world is a more under standing place this weekend. Millions of ordinary people are suddenly aware of what causes sports fans to riot, transforms managers into slavering incoherents, reduces players to tears on television and even induces journalists to abandon the unbiased objectivity that is the hallmark of their trade.

Referees, umpires, judges - whatever we may call the arbiters of our sporting lives - have the power, the ability and sometimes the inclination to deflect the very course of history by the way they interpret the rules of the activities over which they officiate. However, unless you have a passionate interest in a team or a performer you could remain blissfully ignorant of what a bunch of bastards they can sometimes appear to be.

A large majority of the astounding British television audience of 23 million would have thus found themselves in the unusual position of experiencing the pangs of frustrated partisanship on Monday night. Whether or not you agree that ice dancing should be regarded as a sport matters less than that they were pursuing their gold medal under intensely competitive conditions and it doesn't half hurt when your just desserts are not forthcoming.

The crowd in the Hamar Amphitheatre protested but were obviously not genuine lynch-mob material, although they might be inclined to take potted plants instead of cut flowers to throw next time. But at home bitter indignation flooded millions of hearths and all week the controversy has flared with the mightiest pundits in the land joining in. You'd think sporting outrage had just been invented.

But surely it is not as serious as being knocked out of the Cup by a doubtful offside decision, or losing to deadly rivals through a last- minute penalty kick, or being bounced out of a cricket match. The cruelty of refereeing decisions never leaves us. In the last few weeks we have had a glut of disputes that have inflicted deep grief. The Five Nations rugby championship is being played to a background of complaints about refereeing, not least the penalty that gave England a late and undeserved victory against Scotland at Murrayfield last month.

In rugby league, the Wigan coach, John Dorahy, has been fined pounds 250 for making impolite references to the referee's age and competence after his team had suffered a rare defeat against Wakefield two weeks ago. I cannot promise the referees who will today be endeavouring to keep rugby league players onside and stop them acting like human duvets at the tackle that such a wrist-slap will protect them from similar blasts of criticism.

The Cardiff City manager, Eddie May, has yet to be disciplined for complaining about his team being cheated by an 'offside' incident that led to Luton's winning goal in their FA Cup fifth-round tie last Sunday. If he is, his chairman, Rick Wright, has threatened to take the case all the way to the High Court where their lordships will no doubt be glad to ponder the 'interfering with play' clause.

We are talking here about deep-felt, long-lasting grievances - Torvill and Dean at least managed to contain their distress behind a few well-known phrases and sayings while allowing their faces to scream in protest. But they weren't there for the money and if they didn't win the gold they had most of the available glory.

The Lillehammer judges might have been looking at their comeback in a different way to the rest of us. Here were a pair who ruled the Olympics 10 years ago and then turned professional. Now they'd popped back in between sessions of Mother Goose on Ice to try to rule the Olympics again. The possession of such an opinion might make a po-faced expert determined to run a strict and ungenerous eye over their routine and technique. Katarina Witt, another comeback candidate from the professional ice, seemed to be similarly treated.

That I happen to regard figure skating, of which ice dancing is a part, as a sport which demands athletic ability as well as grace doesn't mean I don't find it a little odd, especially when its best practitioners turn professional. In any other sport such a step brings them more into the public eye - in ice skating it removes them almost completely from view.

It has happened to John Curry, Robin Cousins, Torvill and Dean and Miss Witt. One minute they're never off the screen and the next they are never on it. Perhaps this is what spurred the comeback, a need to be seen by the multitudes once more. Or it may be that the audiences are brassed off with Bolero and a new routine had to be etched into history before being paraded on a world tour.

If this is the case then the judges' decision may not make a great deal of difference to T & D's future welfare. Either way, we have to go through it all again in the World Championships and before the millions of mourners face the trauma again I would like to commend the attitude adopted by all sensible sports fans.

However much a sport amends its rules, brings in electronic equipment and employs extra officials, a lot still depends on decisions made by one or more human beings whose impartiality you have to accept and whose mistakes you have to live with in the hope that good and bad judgements even out. It can't work any other way.

Players and spectators at all levels can enjoy sport better if they totally accept two simple rules:

Rule 1: The referee is always right.

Rule 2: In the event of the referee being obviously wrong, Rule 1 applies.

A BRILLIANT idea by Hull rugby league club rebounded on them last week. In order to preserve the atmosphere at their Boulevard stadium they amplified the crowd noises from one section of the ground to supplement the silence in another part where an old stand has just been demolished. Sadly, in enhancing the roars of the fans the public address also blasted out some of their obscene and racist comments which dismayed their opponents, Leeds.

Nevertheless, Hull have hit upon something. The most serious lack at the vast majority of our sports grounds is the giant screen. The spectator who forsakes his television set in order to support live games is at a disadvantage. If we want to encourage bigger crowds the paying customer must be served with the action replays that are available to the stay-at-home.

Perhaps it is too much to expect pictures when they haven't yet exploited the use of sound at matches. A big chance has been missed. The drama of a high jump competition in Liverpool last week was considerably heightened by the use of music. Some football teams have been traditionally accompanied on to the pitch by a theme tune. Recently, Tina Turner's 'Simply the Best' has been used to announce the arrival of a few embarrassed teams.

Another rugby league team, Keighley Cougars, have had some success in fostering spectator relations by hailing every try with a chorus of 'Another One Bites the Dust' which is from a song by Queen and is used by the appalling Gladiators television programme.

It is a catchy chorus and I would recommend it to Twickenham. But considering the number of tries England score it is hardly worth forking out a tenner for the cassette.