What’s in store?

Published : Jan 21, 2010 00:00 IST

Usain Bolt-AP
Usain Bolt-AP

Usain Bolt-AP

This era is a great one to be a sports fan as our TV beams hundreds of breathtaking events into our homes, writes Ted Corbett.

The start of 2010 and it’s time to stare into the future. What will happen to sport in 2010?

Let me guess. Brazil will win the soccer World Cup in South Africa, Australia will regain the Ashes on their home patch starting next autumn, Andy Murray will be the latest in a long line of British tennis players to fail to capture the Grand Slam title at Wimbledon — and so reduce a nation to tears, but, hey, they are used to that — and, oh yes, Usain Bolt will ease another few hundredths of a second off the best sprint times.

What will not happen? Sadly, no one will find a perfect way to solve the problem of delivering a satisfactory verdict when a centre-back dashes into a striker on the edge of the penalty area, or an off-break hits a batsman on the knee roll, or when two sprinters cross the line simultaneously.

That is the major issue in sport this year and maybe for a few years to come. Behind that worry lies another basic problem. Is it better for the referee or umpire to make his own decision; or does he need the aid of an electronic device? Both methods are fallible. Whatever you say you will get an argument and, frankly, there is a chance you will be shown to be wrong.

All I know is that television slow-mo, high definition and the rest of new technology have been making fools of referees for far too long and, as we cannot turn the clock back to the days before stop-start TV, we must find another way.

Tennis, a simple game played in a tight space ideal for TV, seems to have found a solution; Hawk Eye is always right.

Football, just a simple game on a bigger stage, refuses to take the first step towards technology and treat it as if it were an anaconda in a bathroom shower.

Instead their officials reckon they need another referee or two to decide if a goal has been scored. This decision is the most crucial in the 90 minutes — although, come to think of it, when was a match last played out over only 90 minutes — it is the only way of settling the result and still the administrators will not sanction the use of a magic eye to make sure the ball crosses the goal-line.

Cricket — a game that has often seemed to be trying to rush upstairs on the down escalator — has boldly gone where their conservative, traditional law-makers might never have expected to move and now seems to be unsure how the game should proceed. One set of criteria has been rejected; the second, now under trial, often produces the wrong verdict, although it protects the umpires from their grossest mistakes. Try again and don’t hand in this piece of work until you are fully satisfied it brings the right answer.

I note how well the umpires have done in comparison with the technology. Well done them.

The law-makers still have to settle two major points. How long should a side have before they must ask for a referral? Five seconds; or 15? And how can they stop teams questioning the final decision — sometimes one that is blatantly out — because they have a referral left. It spoils the moment when a victorious team wants to celebrate and that is removing some of the theatre from a game that is in need of all the drama it can muster.

So long as Bolt is travelling like an arrow for 90 metres and like a laughing jackass for the final 10 metres, the Olympic final can manage without any device to settle who wins. Perhaps the world athletic authorities will rule that he will automatically be adjudged to be 1-2-3 before any race starts; the other runners will be shaken by the hand and told they must try again. That is a verdict we can all understand.

Bolt is, I guess, the athlete who has dominated his discipline most in the whole of sport. After all, Bradman made ducks, Warne and Muralitharan sometimes failed to deceive anyone; Pele had spells without a goal; Federer loses. Not so Bolt, a perpetual winner even though his opponents have world records to their name, gold medals round their necks and determination in their hearts.

He stands to be the greatest of all Olympians arising and still, so far as those of us who stand to applaud from 5,000 miles can tell, seems unchanged by the glory, the adulation and the grudging admiration of defeated rivals.

We should count ourselves lucky that we live in his era, just as we praise the day we shared the world with Brian Lara, Christian Ronaldo, Eric Cantona, Tiger Woods (despite his ignominy) and Michael Schumacher (perhaps on his way back to the limelight).

This era is a great one to be a sports fan as our TV beams hundreds of breathtaking events into our homes.

In my teens I was happy to cycle 50 miles to see a Headingley Test and exist all day on a choc ice; 60 years on cricket from Sydney, football from Rio and Rugby from Auckland appear at a flick of my remote control.

Happy days — Happy New Year to us all.
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