Opinion: where would we be without controversy?

13 March 2017

A Television Match Official (TMO) decision in rugby ©INPHO/James Crombie 

by Gerry Robinson

Imagine a world in which every refereeing decision was the right one. How banal would that be?

In an ideal world, referees would never make the wrong call. Everything would be black and white. A penalty would be a penalty, a black card would be a black card, a foul would be a foul, players who deserve to be sent off would be sent off. Theoretically, this would be great … but what would we talk about when the final whistle sounds?

Controversy is the lifeblood of sport. Many of the main talking points are derived from dubious decisions, mistakes, borderline calls and general f**k-ups. Without these moments, would our games be deprived of oxygen?

When grey areas remain, everyone can have an opinion. The heated discussions that follow a contentious decision, the media coverage, the editorials, the crowing of disgruntled past players and experts, the barroom brawls, the message board discussions … these are all part and parcel of gaelic games. Often the fall-out from a game is better than the match itself.

While a lot of GAA players, managers and supporters would welcome the introduction of video evidence or a Television Match Official to make the referee’s role easier and to eliminate the high rate of incorrect decisions that apparently dog the sport, this will never happen in gaelic games. Nor should it.

Director-general Paraic Duffy has stressed that there will be no TMO as the use of such evidence would disrupt the flow of the game. But, on a much deeper level, administrators know that it would disrupt the flow of life itself. The post-match debate would be a thing of the past. Brolly would be out of a job.

What would we do if we were stripped of the ability to denigrate our neighbours’ victories and salvage some pride in the same fell swoop with a legitimate putdown like ‘it was never a penalty in a million years’ or ‘he should have been off after ten minutes’? Or ‘sure the best team lost’? Because there would no longer be any doubt – a penalty would be awarded only if it was a penalty and a player would not be on the pitch if he deserved to be off.

I’m convinced that this is the main reason why FIFA has never considered introducing video evidence for crucial moments in soccer. If all the disputes over offsides and red cards and penalties and dives and simulation were gone, what would be left? Not much. Take away the talking points and you take away the game itself. These are the incidents and moments that generate an invaluable amount of free publicity and coverage for the game and the powers that be know better than to risk losing them.

In gaelic games, as in soccer, scoring technology has been brought in and retrospective video evidence is sometimes called upon to punish those who have committed particularly unsavoury acts. But the use of technology will not go any further.

The Ladies Football Congress has decided to embrace video evidence, but don’t expect this to be rolled out in gaelic football or hurling any time soon. Because it suits the suits fine the way things are. Because there really is no such thing as bad publicity in sport. A sanitised world would be nowhere nearly as much fun as one where everyone has an excuse.

Joe Sheridan’s goal against Louth in the 2010 Leinster final, the penalty awarded to Mayo’s Aidan O’Shea against Fermanagh last summer, Sean McLaughlin’s equalising point at the end of the 1995 All-Ireland final … the GAA is richer for these moments than it would be without them.

They pop up every weekend. Black cards for nothing. Too many steps before a goal. A double hop before a point. No black card for a rugby tackle. These bones of contention are an essential part of the game. It’s tough on the victims but, really, they are just collateral damage in a bigger game.

These controversies define modern sport and are a massive part of popular culture. Without them, there would be nothing left to talk about.




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