Johnson shambles exposes need for new laws

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The Independent Online

In a perfect world, the logistics of organising a panel to deal with the appalling Martin Johnson affair before England's match against France at the Stade de France on Saturday would not be beyond the powers of a national sports body.

In that world we could also confidently predict the response to the appeal launched on Johnson's behalf not, we are told, on grounds of cynical expediency but, God save us, "principle." What would happen is that the panel would throw out the appeal, at least double Johnson's punishment of three weeks' suspension – for he has a dreadful accumulation of previous thuggery – and get the job done in time to prevent England's attempt to exploit "procedure" and get their captain into the French game.

Most stupefying of all in this extraordinary business is the new harping on the word principle. What kind of principle is it that a referee is the sole arbiter of conduct that could easily finish up in a criminal or civil court? Johnson's defenders are saying they are merely seeking to apply the laws of the game, which in this case say that once a referee has given his verdict on an incident, however incompetently, there is no power of redress.

Two points leap out of the confusion. One is that Johnson's presence on the field on Saturday would confirm the management of England's absolute lack of concern for anything but the right result. The second is that the game is in desperate need of a new set of laws. One of the most basic should be the power to punish unbridled thuggery properly, whether it is delivered by a schoolboy, an ageing recidivist in the thirds, or the captain of England.

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