Perfectly happy to accept sport's imperfections

Mon, Jul 5, 2010, 01:00

LOCKERROOM:Enough already about goals that were or never were, or offside Tevez goals; we’re against technology deciding sporting contests, writes TOM HUMPHRIES

PLEASE TAKE your seats. The column will start in a moment. First, though, let me slip behind this curtain and put on my costume, which today is that of a Dutch Amish farmer in rural Pennsylvania. Big beard. No mod cons. Now. You may gawp or you may throw stones as you wish. We Amish are a stoic people.

I am against the use of technology to help decide the outcome of major soccer games. There, I’ve said it. Be it a Carlos Tevez offside or a ball which does or doesn’t cross the line in any game between England and Germany. Even a Thierry Henry handball. Accept it. Get over it.

Sport in general and football in particular are lovely simulacrum of real life. And life isn’t supposed to be about certainties; it can’t be about certainties, not with the short journey that is death looming at the end and our necessary haziness about the destination. That is if death itself isn’t the destination. And things are grey and shrouded even before that. It’s the human condition. Imperfect.

This has been a World Cup of consoling frailties and reassuring humanity. Imperfections have given us so many thrills and pleasures. It has been a time filled with earthly genius but punctuated by human error and lovely clangers. Beautiful, forgivable howlers and screw-ups are everywhere.

Robert Green spills a ball into the England net. Ghana miss a penalty which is their ticket to history. Paraguay do the same.

Brazil collapse after a freak, almost comical goal finds their net.

The French and the Italians go home to their place in the stockades.

Lionel Messi, who had more shots than anybody here, fails to score with any one of them. The Dutch gallop through these finals begins when Daniel Aggar and Simon Poulsen of Denmark combine to score an own goal in their first game.

Poulsen, admirably, decided against any “end of the world” histrionics.

He just grinned, face up towards the sky.

Trawl through the stats. No player here has a 100 per cent success rate at executing any single skill of the game. Not close. Very few have an 80 per cent success rate. Most of them are screwing up and making mistakes about 30 per cent of the time they try to do anything.

So why can’t we have the humility and the respect to accept linesmen and referees will make mistakes? So long as an official screws up without malice his decisions are no less a part of the game as a bad bounce, a sliced clearance. Those decisions are the wind you chose to play against in the first half that vanishes for the second. They are the tactics you now regret. Life.

The beauty of sport is you can’t freeze it all and undo it.

Robert Green doesn’t get to rewind.

The counter argument usually runs that if something can be done about a ref’s error than it should be. A: Because it is more important than life or death surgery. There’s millions of bucks on the line here: millionaire a millionaire going mano a mano; B: Because rugby does it.

But surely part of sport is accepting things happen in the context of fate and a huge part of the striving we do is to overtake fate and control it ourselves, to get as near to perfection as we can. Always knowing perfection itself is out of reach. That’s the value of sport.

You can’t flatten the pitch, stop the wind, redo your own errors. Why stop everything when one of the other humans makes an error?

Wrongly, in my view, modern sports coaching insulates kids from the sensations of winning and losing. It’s all fun, fun, fun, which is as it should be but sheer competitiveness isn’t part of that fun.

This has come about despite the fact winning and losing are parts of our life from the time we are born and learning to accept those two imposters as equal is a key part of growing up. Sport without winning and losing isn’t sport, it’s knitting or dog-walking.

Kids are winning and losing from the time they realise what parents they have been dealt, what teachers they have been given. They are passing exams and failing exams from the time they are small. They are the ones constantly being coursed in school yard games of kiss-chasing, or the ones who might as well just stand and watch.

Cruel world? Not if you learn perspective. Learning to lose is as important as learning any other skills. If you don’t know how to lose and how it feels you don’t know the joy of winning.

But increasingly we are saying kids must be shielded from the feeling of losing till they are in their early teens. In case they give up! And look, it is so bad to lose that if the referee makes a mistake in a game on the television everything can be undone. Phew!

A friend and I had a chat about this the other night in the context of a school in South Africa with a “peculiar” ethos. Why not teach kids any loss or error (on behalf of a team-mate or official) has to be accepted quietly? Teach them individualist celebrations of anybody’s part in a team game is wrong.

Teach them, as the late, great basketball coach John Wooden used to say, the only necessary ingredient of stardom is team-mates. Enough of the preening selfishness of the Cristiano Ronaldos, thanks.

Winning and losing are, in part, just odd functions of human error. Part of the humility sport brings or should bring is to accept our own moments of error with the handsome grace Simon Poulsen showed and to accept the errors of others.

True respect for referees would begin if a rule change meant automatic yellow cards for anybody disputing a decision. It won’t come with highlighting and overruling referees.

I don’t know if Geoff Hurst’s third goal in 1966 was over the line. I’ve only seen replays. But I like arguing over it. I don’t know what would have happened if Lampard’s belter had been allowed and England suddenly were back level, or if Tevez had been pulled back for his offside and Argentina had continued to struggle.

Nobody knows and that’s the beauty of it all. We have already accepted these things and moved on. In the long term that’s part of the enjoyment and serenity which sport brings. Our games should be about the humanity and the imperfections of everybody on the field, not about the arrogance of fooling ourselves that some things can be undone.

PS: Obviously this column should have been about camogie. The Dublin Under-16s’ victory over Kilkenny on Saturday was final proof of another John Wooden adage. Sports doesn’t make character. It reveals it. Great day, girls. And coming after Hunky Dorys’ ungracious slap in the face to women’s sport recently.

Now is a chance for redemption for the crisp makers or some other corporation. Late this month Pink Weekend takes place in Thomas Davis’s club in Tallaght. Under-16 girls from all over Leinster playing camogie in earnest competition, what money they make going to the Marie Keating Foundation. The weekend is a key development in keeping talented player interested and playing at an age where for various reasons they start to drift.

Ballygowan and Mycro are already on board but the weekend desperately needs an overall sponsor, whose product shall be loved, cherished, promoted and consumed by all connected with camogie and women’s sport. Contact Claire Egan on claire@camogie.ie. Tel: 01 865 8651. Mob: 087 9030755. Or contact Eve Talbot on eve@camogie.ie.