Craig Joubert was an accident waiting to happen. The way this Rugby World Cup has wrapped itself up in Television Match Official cable, it was always going to asphyxiate someone. And Joubert, a referee not unused to RWC controversy, slipped his head into the noose as Australia kicked the winning penalty in their quarter final.
The moment that ended Scotland’s hopes of a World Cup semi, was not without irony. Moments earlier, Joubert had given Scotland the advantage, bringing to a halt a promising Australian attack because he thought he’d seen a green and gold hand knock the ball on. It hadn’t. The South African man in the middle didn’t consult the TMO then, and he didn’t for the egregious penalty; he couldn’t, TMO decisions can only be invited in try scoring situations or moments of foul play. Only then it seems, do we want to know what actually happened. A penalty kick to dump you out of the World Cup will have to come down to what the ref thinks he saw. We’ll pick and choose how we use the truth.
And this is the problem. This is why we had outrage; people who should know better shooting their mouths off; this is why Joubert ran and is probably still panicking every time someone knocks on his door. The problem is the truth has no place in a referee’s handbook, he should only deal in what he thinks is true.
The Television Match Official has become Frankenstein’s monster. Invented by officials to be used by officials, but now, tragically, given breath by the big screen and TV replays, the TMO now hunts. It has lurked, feeding off blind spots, highlighting what the man in the middle has missed. It appertained to be helpful, a friendly word in the ear, but we all knew the crash was coming. It was only a matter of time before someone adjudged a game winning moment from where the TMO couldn’t reach. It turned to Joubert with a smile that suggested it should be King and said, ‘Here’s what you didn’t see; I couldn’t help. Sorry old chum, now, off you run.’
The truth and sport seem like happy bed fellows but they’re not. We need contention in sport. We need arguments, moments of controversy and discord, because that is what keeps everyone coming back. A referee getting something wrong is what it is all about. If we just had the truth they’d be no fun. The truth is boring, unarguable, it’s officious and factual and all the sort of black and white that really loses sport its appeal. Sport needs the unknown. Rugby referees need the unknown so they can be the sole arbitrator. Otherwise, what is the point in them being there?
So that leaves us with two options. Either we retreat to a bygone era where referees had no technological help or we adjudicate the whole game removed from the pitch, on a desk with thirty different screens, one mouse and a big microphone. “Right, everyone back to the ten metre line, camera 27 has got Blue 5 entering the ruck from three degrees left of the gate.”
Or maybe there’s a third way… Just give the technology to the referees. Don’t allow a TV or stadium producer to get his mitts on it. Should the referee want or have to see something he’s missed, the fourth official can rush a hand held screen onto the pitch. Or maybe some tech company could come up with a fancy watch and strap it to his wrist. Then the truth can stay with the referee. You don’t need to show it to everyone, just the man who needs to see it. After all, it’s his opinion that really matters, not ours.
We need referees. We need subjectivity. We need people like Craig Joubert. He isn’t a disgrace. He’s a man trying to do his best by the game he loves. That’s the only truth I’m interested in. The rest is just sport.
Sam Roberts © 2015. (Text only). All Rights Reserved.