Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?


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The Independent Online

1 Cricket will be restored to terrestrial television

2015 is the deadline for the England & Wales Cricket Board to take up the option to extend its £280m TV deal with Sky to 2022. Sky could drop its fee if it loses exclusivity, but what is the point of millions rolling into the ECB coffers, in part to help fund the county game, if the sport is behind a paywall? The ECB has grown rich. Its workforce has increased from 155 to 222. But most people have no clue who the nation’s best club players are, while participation and attendances have dropped. Cricket has become invisible to millions. Let it live again.

2 The BBC will threaten to boycott the World Cup

The corporation’s journalism has contributed hugely to uncovering the endemic corruption in Fifa’s World Cup bidding process. But the governing body is untouchable, as the Michael Garcia fiasco has demonstrated, and only when the big-money TV deals for the tournament come under threat will real change happen. A BBC which demonstrates it is unwilling to finance an organisation in whose hands the game’s reputation has been disgraced – and unprepared to see its money reach a 2018 Russia World Cup organising committee which refuses to outlaw racism – would force Sepp Blatter out of his slough, or out of his job as Fifa president.

3 It will be announced that all Premier League clubs will play away to lowly opposition in the FA Cup third round

Who actually cares that last year’s finalists, Arsenal and Hull City, face each other this Sunday? The thrilling games in this year’s third-round fixture list see Manchester United travel to Yeovil, Crystal Palace to Dover and Swansea City to Tranmere. So why can’t the third round be seeded, to ensure that clubs from League One and lower will always get a home tie against a side from the £1bn division? Heaven knows, they need the cash boost that would bring. The competition would also be flooded with colour.

4 Premier League referees will be wired up to the broadcast transmission

Hearing what the referee is telling the players in elite rugby union matches offers great insight into the rhythms and to what, for some, are the mysteries of the game. So why shouldn’t football follow? The Premier League clubs would be aghast, of course. But the silence of referees, whose decisions and the logic behind them remain unknown beyond the fragments of information provided by indignant managers, is one of the most dissatisfying aspects of football. Hearing the on-pitch conversations might even make players think about how they conduct themselves.

5 The scandal of the 2015 Women’s World Cup being played on artificial pitches will be a big story

It seems to be too late to change this, six months out from the tournament kicking off in Canada, despite the legal challenge being made by some players. But for the women to be playing on anything but grass at their World Cup is deeply discriminatory. It changes the nature of the tournament’s game. It also creates greater risk of injury. There will be plenty of storms masquerading as scandals in 2015 but this is a real one.

6 The Bradford City disaster will be  properly remembered

The 30th anniversary of the fire in which 56 lost their lives will be observed on 11 May and it is to be hoped that there will at last be a full analysis of how avoidable it was. The unmaintained stand was such a monument to neglect that a charred copy of the Telegraph & Argus from 1968 was discovered in the debris. There was no independent police force appointed to investigate the disaster. Bradford received two warnings from the Health and Safety Executive and another from the county council, from 1981 to 1984, about the fire risk the timber stand constituted. There has never been an adequate reckoning. Those who failed so grievously must be held to account.

7 A top Premier League footballer will speak up for the grass-roots game ahead of the general election

The devastating impact of the Conservative Party on local authority funding of sports facilities is evident the length and breadth of the country, with the fees demanded for the use of local football pitches contributing to the devastation of the game at its roots. Pick any place you like but Huyton, on Merseyside, is as good an example as any. It is an area where grass roots delivered Steven Gerrard, Joey Barton and David Nugent. Yet local teams there are vanishing. Who will speak up?

8 Rugby union referees will start ignoring the big-screen replays

The repeated showings of incidents on big screens during games are having an increasingly malign influence – enticing referees to make late referrals to video officials because of what they have seen. Referees will make mistakes that can affect the outcome of the game – that is part of the human unpredictability which makes sport so absorbing. They need to act on instinct, rely on what they have seen with their own eyes, and stop the TV producers damaging the flow of rugby.

9 Football will produce a credible alternative to Sepp Blatter

Nominations for candidates to challenge him at the Fifa Congress in Zurich, from 29 May, must be submitted by the end of January, each needing five national football associations to second a nomination to stand against him. It is a doomed enterprise. Blatter has the Asian and South American vote sewn up. But it is the moment for someone with dynamism, untarnished by what Fifa has become, to demonstrate that Blatter is not the only option. Jeffrey Webb, the Concacaf president, would be a start. He has admitted Fifa’s ethical and moral failings.

10 Racing promotes itself as sport, not just a good day out

It is the biggest spectator sport after football but the Jockey Club estimates that 80 per cent of racegoers have little or no knowledge about what they are seeing: why a horse is worth the bet; what the difference is between Flat and jump racing. Good work is under way to change that, including racing terminology on big screens. There is too much tendency for the old hands to be sniffy about their sport. There is more to it than a few beers and bets.