POOR UMPIRING MARS CHAMPIONSHIP

It is nobody's case that a tournament at the World level should be bereft of umpiring errors. No sport is free from this. But the federations must ensure that the margin of errors is negligible, writes S. THYAGARAJAN.

Few competitions in recent memory have triggered a debate on the quality (or the lack of it?) of umpiring as did the Madrid World Cup. The shrillest voice was from India, which left no avenue untouched to see its protest heard. While the tenacity in pursuing a cause, on which the entire establishment was unanimous, needs to be commended, the futility of it in an FIH event cannot be overstressed.

The response from the Tournament Director was apologetic, prompted perhaps by the impact of all round criticism. But that did not help the cause of India, except keeping alive a talking point. India was not isolated in feeling aggrieved. In fact, in the same match, the England players were disappointed over the disallowed (video umpire) 68th minute goal.

Umpiring not only in the women's events, but in the men's as well should be viewed in proper perspective. In every tournament there are complaints. In Madrid some rulings were blatantly flawed.

It may be premature to put down umpiring errors to the use of technology. At the men's World Cup the use of a video umpire was tried out. A few took recourse to such assistance. But the move was welcomed by all. There was a sense of confidence that some wrongs might be corrected by the video umpire.

What sent tempers soaring for India against England was the ham-handed manner in which the umpires (Jean Duncan and Caroline Brunkenreef) reversed the decision during the breather. Conflicting versions notwithstanding, the incident led to a chorus of protest. But the drama had a predictable ending. Even in the semifinal stage, umpiring evoked criticism, Pablo Uzoz, Spain's coach, questioning the golden goal by Suzie Faulkner.

It is nobody's case that a tournament at the World level should be bereft of umpiring errors. No sport is free from this. But the federations must ensure that the margin of errors is negligible. Otherwise a long preparation will be botched up by a single mistake.

The FIH is never tired of repeating the efforts at improving the quality of umpiring. But a section believes that for the quality to improve, the FIH should go for paid professional umpires. Now, umpiring is voluntary, many opting for it simply for the love of the game.

A seminar here, or a refresher course there, does help. But that's not sufficient enough to guarantee first class supervision. The best in the business now are handful. The FIH may well constitute a professional panel regardless of the country quota, like the ICC, preferably with a sponsor taking care of the umpires' needs of travel, accommodation and payment.

Compared to Monchengladbach, the Madrid venture lacked the fervour. The Dutch triumph more than compensated for the disappointing show of their men in Germany. Minke Booij made it memorable for the team as much as for herself by winning the 2006 Player of the Year award. On focus, however, was the Netherlands' top scorer (six goals) Sylvia Karres.

Australia was more balanced in terms of experience with players like Nikki Hudson, Karen Smith and Rechel Imison, but slipped at the last hurdle.

The guiles of Luciana Aymar were insufficient to see Argentina, the defending champion, beyond the semi-final.

Of the four Asian squads, Japan was outstanding. From fourth place in Group `B' standings it recovered to finish fifth overall and earn a place for the next Champions Trophy. Shocking was China's 10th slot below Korea. For India, it was despair from day one against the Dutch. One cannot refrain from comparing the odd similarities between Indian men and women. Both finished 11th, overcoming South Africa at Monchengladbach and at Madrid to record their only win in seven matches.

Disturbing indeed is the trend after the optimism generated on the eve of the championships. Clearly, the road to recovery is long and arduous.

Is there any option left but to confront the challenges with a single minded devotion?