The Roar
The Roar


Abandoning the search for sporting perfection

Roar Guru
10th November, 2011

Decision reviews, video replays and goal-line technology ruin the spectacle of games, and reduce them to clinical, quasi-legal inquiries. It is time for the myth of ‘getting it right, 100% of the time’ to be abandoned so we can see more sport, and less painstaking deliberation.

Referees and umpires do not need to be right 100% of the time. It’s a myth created not by fans of the game, but by the people who hold the most control and the least understanding of sport: the administrators.

Decision reviewing comes from lawyers being given the ability to apply their narrow thinking to the joyous unpredictability of a sporting contest. It has no place in sport.

Whether a try is a try, or whether a batsman is out does not need to be proven beyond reasonable doubt.

The most baffling thing about this logic is that these endless reviews do not avoid controversy or incorrect decisions.

The video referee in rugby league is mired in ‘interpretation’ and ‘benefit of the doubt,’ whose meanings are neither clear nor consistent.

It seems likely that we will soon be debating the interpretation of the word ‘interpretation.’

In cricket, the controversy is over camera angles and the accuracy of hawk-eye. On an LBW appeal, it appears now that the umpire’s decision is just a starting point for deliberations.

If you want evidence of legal thinking surpassing common sense in the administration of sport, go back and look at the last few overs of cricket’s 2007 World Cup Final.


It is farcical, and leads me to imagine the sporting contests of the future. When a try is scored in the last minute of the NRL grand final, the two teams fiercely debate the meaning of the decision in Manly v Parramatta (2008) 164 CLR 335 on the meaning of ‘corner post.’

Cronulla’s barrister will deny the quality of this judgment as a binding precedent, because it was not made a unanimous decision of the full bench of the video referee or ‘regulatory articulation tribunal’.

Then the match is suspended as Penrith seek leave to appeal to the High Court.

No, you’re right, that scenario isn’t realistic. Cronulla in the NRL Grand Final? Preposterous.

Sport has survived up to this point as the spectacle which enthrals us without a sub-committee forming to discuss every contentious decision. The unpredictability of officials is part of the reason it enthrals us so.

The Geoff Hurst goal which decided 1966 World Cup final is still today debated in bars and stadiums around the world, indeed it is a legendary moment in sport.

For every English supporter who claims this as a glorious moment, there is one who sees Diego Maradona’s ‘hand of God’ goal from behind a veil of red mist.

Where German sympathisers may disagree with the assessment of Hurst’s goal as a great sporting moment, they would likely see Frank Lampard’s disallowed goal in last year’s tournament as a triumph for natural justice.


The world game is yet to fall under the spell of the 100 per centers, but it appears it is a matter of time.

What these legal types will never understand is that sport embraces natural justice; their intervention is not necessary.

They stand behind the argument around ‘well you’ve got the technology there, doesn’t do any harm to use it’. But it does do harm.

A video referee calling for so many replays that both sides of the crowd howl in contempt does the game harm. Cricketers only half celebrating a wicket because it is pending review does do the game harm.

Removing the drama of a commentator shouting ‘…but the referee’s given it!’ after a dubious goal would remove one of the great provokers of passion from football.

There are a set number of umpires or referees on the field, and their decision is final. Remember that ideal, which parents taught their children?

To maintain its purity and excitement, sport must abandon this frivolous pursuit of perfection, and embrace the fact that unpredictability is part of the magic of sport: the reason we watch, talk about and love it.