Lads! Lads! Lads!
Daz England VAR turns back the clock for football
“Oikball!” The senior broker was a well turned-out specimen. Hand-made suit, fob chain disappearing into top pocket, blue dress shirt with white cutaway collar, slicked-back hair. Rugger was his game of choice. He was a decent salesman, dishing out solid share recommendations. No Bonfire of the Vanities type (think Wolf of Wall Street if you’re a younger reader). But almost four decades on I still remember his pithy dismissal of ‘my’ sport rather than any of the tips he handed out to me, his wet-behind-the-ears investment client.
While no-one should ever be so complacent as to think they have laughed last, football has certainly laughed loudest and longest in the intervening years. The City in the 1980s was hardly a representative cross-section of British society, and a single sartorially elegant denizen didn’t represent its whole, but football’s transformation and accumulated hegemony is starkly apparent when walking today’s trading floors. Rugby remains a thing, but it’s abundantly clear what’s the thing.
My synapses were fired to unearth “Oikball!” by the recording of the video assistant referee, Darren England, screwing up his review of what turned out to be a perfectly good goal for Liverpool a couple of weeks ago. Not for him, his companions in the VAR bunker and the on-field officials a measured process akin to rugby’s TMO or cricket’s DRS, with spectators cut into the deliberations.
No, instead we can hear what lads sound like in the pub, bantering casually back and forth, only missing their pints and pork scratchings order. From “cheers mate” and “thank you, mate” to “that’s wrong that, Daz” and “oh *expletive*” in a matter of seconds.
There’s audio and a full transcript of Daz’s fiasco here in The Guardian
Darren England will always be Daz forthwith, having shredded the credibility of technological advances that are said to deliver 95% accuracy for offside decisions - but also frustrating delays and seemingly endless controversy over incidents of suspected foul play that still require human judgements. A game whose professionalism has developed hugely still harbours corruption and amateurism in many quarters. To that now add an indelible, demonstrable dose of incompetence.
The march of technology in sport is unstoppable, bringing with it angst in the mixed zone and over the salty snacks. Talking points are always valuable, woven as they are into the spectator’s overall experience. Just so long as the tech’s accuracy and speed improve season-on-season, and those wielding the joysticks are schooled in the import of their decisions and the consequent required etiquette.
I’m not advocating they wear fob watches and Savile Row tailoring, but elite football’s standing is only as strong as the guardians of its integrity (both man and machine). How many years away is a match officiated entirely by AI, and what effect might that have on player and fan behaviours? I give it five years or less until there are trials - I’ll miss berating the men in black though.
International federations continue to struggle to find competition formats that maximise all three of opportunity to compete, sporting tension on the field of play and commercial revenues.
Six countries will have some degree of home advantage at the 2030 FIFA World Cup (just pity the three ‘away’ countries who will have to fly across multiple time zones to and from South America to Spain, Portugal and Morocco for one of their group matches). There’s been a lot of rugby in France this autumn effectively to winnow Australia and Scotland out of the World Cup. The current Cricket World Cup’s ten nation league format means the last round of five group matches could all be dead rubbers before the crash, bang, wallop of two semi finals and a final.
I like the use of multiple hosts to spread opportunity and keep costs per host down, but I like short sharp tournaments more.
Wembley will host the final of a multi-nation Euro 2028 for UEFA. Quote of the week from the FA’s Chair, mindful no doubt of Euro 2020 jibbing and more at the stadium:
“We are paranoid about it and we try to test to destruction.” Debbie Hewitt
Medicine, lacrosse the pond
I admit the inclusion of lacrosse in the LA 2028 Olympics has taken me by surprise. Baseball/softball and flag football will play to the home crowd and provide Team USA success; cricket is about Indian TV revenues; not sure why squash after so many times of asking, but Egypt will be hoping for a few medals given their dominance at the top end of the sport. These I understand. But lacrosse?
A quick search of the rankings gives the answer and a quirk. The US is top lacrosse nation for both their men’s and women’s teams. So, more gold medals in America’s sights. The quirk? Third rated men and eight ranked women are Haudenosaunee. This, it turns out, is a confederacy of six Native American nations which competes internationally in lacrosse alongside ‘conventional’ countries.
Can’t envisage the Haudenosaunee securing IOC membership within the next four years, but they have that ambition. If not, it will be interesting to see whether its players are deemed eligible to bolster the US teams when LA comes around.
“Why is this the fastest-growing sport in the world? Because of the origins to the Medicine Game – and the world needs some serious medicine right now, whether they realize it or not.” Rex Lyons. Read more here
Big races are always awash with charity running vests, advertising commitment to wonderful organisations big and small. At the Royal Parks Half on Sunday I was cut up by a competitor sporting a Rory Peck Trust top which proclaimed to support freelance journalists around the world. Right now, we need such sharp elbows in the media, even if these particular ones triggered a Pavlovian curse from me. You can read more about Rory Peck and the trust operating in his memory here