Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Conversation About: The Bahrain Grand Prix

They’ve got penguins in Melbourne. I’m walking along this rocky outcrop, stretching a hundred yards out to sea to get to where they nest and I finally get to this wooden gangway where you can see them up close. There are signs saying, ‘No flash photography – use infra-red instead; penguins don’t recognise the colour red’ and ‘Don’t climb onto the rocks – this is a nature reserve’ etcetera etcetera. I turn to see this Frenchman climbing onto the rocks with a massive camera hanging from his neck...

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Goal-Line Technology Not Welcome in Football

F.A. Cup confusion
The debate surrounding goal-line technology in football has surfaced once again, following a phantom goal during Chelsea’s F.A. Cup semi-final victory over Tottenham at Wembley on Sunday. At the time of the goal, The Blues held a slender 1-0 lead, but following the absurd refereeing blunder, they went on to complete a 5-1 demolition of a bemused and bewildered Spurs side. As predicted, many of football’s greats, past and present, took to their social networking sites of choice to air their grievances regarding the latest high-profile controversy, as the introduction of goal-line technology appears increasingly imminent.

But, would this really improve the game of football?

As stated in Law 10 ‘The Method of Scoring’ on page 32 of the official FIFA ‘Laws of the Game’ manual: “A goal is scored when the whole of the ball passes over the goal line, between the goalposts and under the crossbar.” 

At present, this is a judgement call made by the referee and assistant referee, whose view is potentially obscured by players, leading to the belief that introducing technology would eradicate such issues.

FIFA is currently testing two potential camera-based methods, including ‘Smart Ball’ and ‘Hawk-Eye’.

The former refers to balls equipped with censors and magnetic fields around the goal to give a real-time verdict on whether or not the ball has crossed the line.

Lampard out of luck
A similar system was trialled by FIFA in 2005 and discarded upon learning of just a 95 percent accuracy rate.

The latter system uses triangulation, through six high-speed cameras, only needing to observe 25 percent of the ball to determine its location, overcoming the concern of players blocking the line of vision.

However, this is not real-time and would therefore require stoppages in play for disputed incidents. Cost of installation has also been estimated at £250,000 for each stadium to utilise such technology. 

In this instance, a greater divide between the Premier League and the lower leagues would be created, an act which would be frowned upon by those unable to afford such facilities. It seems difficult to justify the costs of implementation for a scenario which is relatively rare.

True, most big-money sports in the modern era take advantage of technology to aid decision making, including finish line calls in horse racing, swimming and athletics. Cricket and tennis both use Hawk-Eye for in-line judgements, whilst rugby employs video referees for dubious try decisions.

To many general sports fans, football may appear to have been left in the dark ages, but all dedicated football fans will appreciate the one resounding difference between their favoured discipline and the others mentioned above.

Keeper 'saves' a goal
Football is the only non-stop sport, whereby breaks in play are few and far between and the very ethos of the game is based on hard, fast, flowing action. To introduce lengthy stoppages, interrupting the natural rhythm of the game, would be to remove the heartbeat of a sport which has survived perfectly well throughout the ages, without the need for such inclusion.

The most famous case in recent history occurred in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, when Frank Lampard’s 20-yard strike was judged not to have crossed the line, despite video replays showing the ball was a foot over the chalk.

Sure, England had reason to feel hard done by, but the fact remains, they were horrendously outclassed and convincingly defeated 4-1 by much classier opponents. So, rather than being a decision that changed the outcome of England’s World Cup fortunes, it became an event that was used as a scapegoat to mask England’s lack of talent.

Similarly, on Sunday, Tottenham were equally unlucky to have a goal awarded against them, which never crossed the line. But, despite Chelsea scoring on four other occasions, in an impressive 5-1 rout, it was the irrelevance of the goal that never was, which stole the headlines.

As with these two instances, there would be little to no overall change of the successes and failures in the football world.

The 1966 World Cup Final
The one major argument in favour of goal-line technology is justice. The problem being, the use of technology for one scenario creates inconsistencies in others.

For example, a referee may possess the power and knowledge to award a goal after confirming, through video replay, that the ball has crossed the line. Yet, if the corner that lead to the goal should never have been given, because video replays show the defender never touched the ball, it is impossible to claim justice in this situation.

The only way to achieve real justice throughout football is through the total use of computerised, video-assisted, robotic referees for every single decision, including throw-ins, free-kicks, corners, goal-kicks, penalties and goals causing uncountable stoppages and the complete death of the game.

Yes, sometimes humans get decisions wrong and sometimes they go in your teams favour and sometimes they do not, but this is part of the game. 

Genuine football fans would agree that half the enjoyment of being a spectator, is the debates that ensue over the referee’s big calls. As the president of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, claimed, “Fans love to debate any given incident in a game. It is part of the human nature of sport.”

FIFA not keen on cameras
FIFA have always claimed their objective is to open up football to the world, a notion that is made impossible by the undermining of its universality. 

The idea of an ancient sport being replicated all over the planet, promoting ‘jumpers for goalposts’ football, is removed with the suggested inclusion of complex modern goal-line technology.

After all, football is an art, not a science.

Written by Dom Wallace

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Conversation About: Mario Balotelli

Queuing up to get into a swanky bar the other night, shielding my chin from the bitter wind in the top of my coat, when some vagrant shuffles up to me...

Monday, April 9, 2012

Stuart Lancaster's England Are a Wilting Rose

New man in charge
On March 29th, Stuart Lancaster was named as permanent head coach of the England rugby team. Following his successful, although brief, period as interim boss during a Six Nations campaign that saw England win four out of their five matches, many have been quick to heap praise on the new boss. However, a more in-depth investigation into the events surrounding his appointment would suggest that the current optimism in the English rugby camp may be short-lived.

A woeful World Cup campaign in New Zealand at the end of 2011 will be remembered more for the irresponsible and unprofessional antics of the England rugby team off the field than their undisciplined and disorganised behaviour on it.

Unsavoury reports of law-breaking during matches and drunken misdemeanours between fixtures left Martin Johnson with no option, but to resign, proving that great players don’t always make great coaches.
The month of mayhem left the reputation of the England Rugby Football Union in tatters and with confidence at an all-time low, many had pencilled this year’s Six Nations as a potentially huge embarrassment for English rugby.

Enter Stuart Lancaster.

A shameful World Cup
A new-look England squad made heavy work of their opening two fixtures with narrow victories over Scotland and Italy, although winning was the most important factor. A spirited performance against Wales, ending in a controversial defeat, showed signs that Lancaster had moved quickly to change the ethos in the camp. A memorable victory in Paris and a resounding win over the Irish at Twickenham further compounded the suspicion that whatever Lancaster was doing, was working.

The constant flow of penalties that England had conceded under Johnson, combined with a lack of conviction and identity had been replaced with a passion, discipline and belief causing players and pundits alike to pay homage to the impact of Lancaster in his role as interim head coach.

Debates ensued as to who held the credentials to take on the role of England head coach on a full-time basis and it appeared in recent weeks that the RFU had narrowed their list of suitable candidates down to Lancaster and former South African and Italian head coach Nick Mallet.

Lack of discipline
Due to England’s relative success in the Six Nations, many voiced opinions to suggest that Lancaster should be rewarded for his outstanding work and when unveiled as the new permanent boss, the news was met with enthusiasm from the overwhelming majority.

But, was Lancaster the right man for the job and will he still be regarded as the saviour of English rugby come the turn of the year?

When assessing the calibre of Lancaster’s opposition, it becomes obvious that the magnitude of Mallet’s achievements far outweigh his own.

With a coaching career that commenced in 1984 and boasts five clubs, two national teams, World Cup experience, two French domestic titles, a Tri-Nations triumph, a claim to raising Italy to the heights of a world-class rugby nation and a record winning stretch of 17 consecutive test wins with the Springbok, amongst others, Mallet’s accolades speak for themselves.

Vastly experienced
In stark contrast, Lancaster’s coaching career began recently in 2006 as Director of Rugby at Leeds Carnegie, having run Leeds RFU Academy for the previous five years.

Former England World Cup winner Ben Cohen admitted, “I don’t think he’s the right man. Nick Mallet has got credentials coming out of his ears, he has got a great CV [and is someone] who knows how to react in tough times.”

In Lancaster’s defence, he has stated in no uncertain terms that his reign will be one of steady progression, warning against building expectations too high, too soon. The RFU has moved quickly to back-up Lancaster, re-iterating that his ultimate mission is to bring success to English rugby when the 2015 World Cup is played on home soil.

Cohen countered, “Yes...he has got four years to build up to the World Cup, but you want someone who has got experience of managing through that. You look at the Six Nations as a honeymoon period and there are testing times to come ahead.”
Many current England internationals filed rapid responses in favour of Lancaster’s appointment, although cynics would claim these were acts of personal gain to get on the right side of a man who disagrees with favouritism.

Favours Mallet
England’s Six Nations captain, Tom Croft, announced, “He did a great job so he is the ideal man to keep in the role. I look forward to working with him again in the summer, if I am selected.”

A host of ex-internationals seemed to back Lancaster, though few appeared to speak with real persuasion. Jeremy Guscott revealed, "The results made it almost impossible not to give him the job. The future for Lancaster is fairly bright, but we have to keep a lid on the expectation.”

Leicester head coach and former England hooker, Richard Cockerill, believes, “Stuart is there by circumstance rather than by ambition.”
Ex-England captain, Martin Corry, went further into the nature of Lancaster’s appointment, suggesting, “I think the process has to be questioned a little bit. You look at Wayne Smith [former All Blacks assistant coach], who I regard as a world-class coach. He ruled himself out, saying the job seemed more like a PR exercise than actually coaching a world-class side.”

Lancaster has emerged from the Six Nations with a glowing reputation but, as is often the case with sports fans, followers must not be short-sighted and acknowledge that much tougher tasks lie ahead. In June, England travel to South Africa for a three match series, before hosting the ‘Big Three’ southern hemisphere teams and Fiji at Twickenham this winter. There is a real possibility that England will walk away from the next seven fixtures with just one victory.

Tough tests lie ahead
Even former England hooker Brian Moore, overtly vocal in his support for Lancaster, conceded, “They have got southern hemisphere games that they are likely to lose and it will not be a straightforward path.”

In December 2011, the English were in a state of despair with their national rugby team, given their failure to conduct themselves appropriately on and off the pitch. Four months later, this appears to be a distant memory as the media misrepresents a small step as a giant leap in the revolution of English rugby.

While the outcome of the last five games was a pleasant surprise for most fans, three narrow victories and one comfortable result against a diminished Ireland side, is not enough to convince most realists that England are a transformed outfit.

Given that they face the possibility of several heavy losses before the end of the year, it will be interesting to see whether the public still believe in a highly inexperienced head coach as the right man to lead England come December 2012.

Stuart Lancaster’s red rose has weathered the first storm, but must withstand some treacherous conditions before it has the chance to bloom.

Written by Dom Wallace

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Conversation About: Tiger Woods

Down Sainsbury’s the other day reading the label on a jar of Patak’s Balti sauce, trying to discern its nutritional merits, when some kid no older than three, waddles up to me licking this massive round lollipop...

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Conversation About: Fabrice Muamba

I’m swishing about in the bath last night and I hear this voice, only a little voice, calling to me from somewhere but I look around and there’s no-one there so I carry on soaking, getting nice and relaxed but the voice comes back. And I realise it’s the rubber duck and he’s asking me about Fabrice Muamba...

Sport 4 Thought Presents New Guest Writer

Andrew Hatch
Sport 4 Thought has made an incredible impact in 2012 claiming 3,000 hits since launching two months ago and in order to accommodate such a rapidly increasing audience, I am delighted to present a new guest writer to the world’s premier sports blog.

Andrew Hatch is an experienced writer and avid sports fanatic who combines his limitless knowledge of sporting trivia with a unique style of prose to compose compelling, thought provoking pieces.

Andrew’s writing will offer an alternative view on hot topics in the sporting world and his series entitled ‘A Conversation About’ will be a regular feature of the new-look Sport 4 Thought blog.

Written by Dom Wallace