Drought Ended

I’ve written before (here and here) about the parlous state of Australian rugby union. On Saturday the Waratahs beat the Highlanders 41-12 ending a run of 40 straight defeats for Australian teams against New Zealand opposition. The last time they secured a win over their trans-Tasman rivals was in May 2016, almost 2 years ago. At the international level, Australia haven’t won the Bledisloe Cup since 2002.

With France in their second or third generation of consistently underperforming and England having a lousy Six Nations championship in 2018, the Rugby World Cup is in danger of becoming as much a farce as it’s rugby league equivalent if this keeps up.


The Downside of Diversity Quotas

There’s a row going on in South Africa between a black former rugby player, Ashwin Willemse, and two white former players Nick Mallett and Naas Botha. The video in the link shows Willemse objecting strongly to suggestions from the other two that he was a “quota player” during a post-match discussion on the South African Supersports channel. He then walks off the stage, saying he refuses to be criticised by people who played in the apartheid era. There was obviously a build-up to this which the public hasn’t yet seen, and without knowing what’s been said by whom it’s difficult to say if Willemse is overreacting or not.

Naturally, this being the modern South Africa, people have leaped in on both sides even if they couldn’t have named a single Springbok player before last weekend. Given this is all happening 23 years after Nelson Mandela famously handed the Webb Ellis trophy to Francois Pienaar while wearing the Springbok jersey, it’s rather depressing. Fans and pundits always have idiots among them, but I’d have hoped former players would have the sense not to bring race into any discussion on South African rugby, especially on television.

However, my main point is that this is a good demonstration of how damaging diversity quotas are. I don’t know if Ashwin Willemse was selected to the Springboks on merit (I never saw him play) but the fact that quotas for black players existed leaves the door wide open for people to accuse him of being a quota player. And no matter how good the player is, there will always be some who think they were only picked because they were black. I’m sure there are people out there insane enough to think Bryan Habana was only picked because he was black; the problem with quotas is nobody knows for sure who is there on merit and who is there to make up numbers, and it hands ammunition to the group’s enemies. As I said in this post:

The real losers from affirmative action policies aimed at helping minorities is not people who fall outside the designated groups but genuinely competent minorities who not only have to sit alongside less-capable colleagues of the same sex or skin colour, but now have their own competencies called into question.

As Ashwin Willemse is finding out, this question mark can hang over their heads for a long time indeed. I suspect we’re going to have a lot of highly capable women in the corporate world retiring in frustration after never having quite convinced everyone they were there on merit. This is what happens when you select some who aren’t.


Double-Edged Swords

Staying on the subject of Lance Armstrong, I listened to the Joe Rogan podcast on the recommendation of regular commenter William of Ockham in the comments of this post, where I wrote:

By all accounts, it sounds as though Armstrong was a nasty, bullying, vindictive piece of work. This is why, when he fell from grace, few people were willing to stand up for him and many delighted in his comeuppance. Had he simply been a cyclist who doped along with everyone else and got caught, he’d have had a good chance of re-ingratiating himself with the fans and public.

In the podcast, Armstrong deals with the above charge in a way which makes perfect sense, at least to me. He says the attitude required to win at all costs when on the bike can be all-consuming; he says in order to beat a competitor he will need to hate the guy, and find something to hate him for, even if he actually quite likes him. He said the problem is, when you get off the bike after the race, you need to remind yourself you don’t actually hate him. He and Rogan discuss the theory that top-level performers are often slightly mad, and come to the agreement there is probably some truth to it. Armstrong said his ruthless, take-no-prisoners attitude served him brilliantly when on the bike, but was his downfall when he applied it to the doping accusations and other areas of his non-racing life.

I can understand this, and I expect a similar thing happened with Tiger Woods who’s catastrophic fall from the pinnacle of golf was initiated by his wife finding out about his extra-marital affairs, and her subsequent reaction. Here’s a recent article on Tiger’s early years:

Benedict, a New York Times bestselling author, and Keteyian, an 11-time Emmy Award winning CBS contributor, write that Tiger’s relationship with his father is responsible for his astonishing success – but also laid the roots for his ruin.

Earl subjected his son to psychological warfare in his youth and called him a ‘little n*****’ during brutal training sessions to improve his golf game.

But another lesson that Earl appears to have taught his son was about how to behave around women.

According to the book,  Earl’s womanizing was ‘well known’ to his family and that Tiger would break down in tears on the phone to friends talking about how he cheated on Kultida, his mother.

Earl’s habits included drinking, smoking and pornography that ‘drove a wedge between him and his family’.

So you have a highly talented kid driven incredibly hard to succeed by his father and subjected to forms of abuse which he channels into his sport. As a recipe for becoming one of the greatest golfers of all time it obviously worked wonders, but left him utterly unable to manage when things started to fall apart around him. Landing in a situation where the “work doubly hard and win at all costs” mentality is no use and only makes things worse, like Armstrong he found that’s all he knew.

I can relate to this. A few years back I went on a course entitled Managing Personal Relations and one of the things I learned about myself is the talents which make me a half-decent project engineer are ill-applied to personal relationships. Engineering is a subject which deals mostly with facts, logic and demonstrations of both. If you want to win an argument in the engineering world, you must overcome the opposition with superior facts and logic, demonstrated simply. Coupled with this, you often need to drive results by applying bone-headed determination and sheer force of will. Both are appalling ways to try to resolve personal, human issues which you face either at work or outside, and the training course was designed firstly to show where we were going wrong, and secondly to fix them and offer alternatives. It was probably the best training course I’ve done, and it made me realise my dealings with people needed to change as browbeating people into seeing my superior logic was not going to result in successful relationships – especially where women are concerned!

I expect, just as STEM folk have to learn to deal with non-STEM folk in order to maintain good relations, top-level sportsmen have to adjust their attitudes when not competing. I imagine those who participate in the more individualistic sports, like cycling and golf, find this harder than pure team players.


Fair Weather Friends

From the BBC:

Lance Armstrong has agreed to pay $5m (£3.5m) to the US government to settle a long-running lawsuit that could have cost him $100m (£71m) in damages.

The American, 46, was accused of fraud by cheating while riding for the publicly funded US Postal Service team.

I was aware that Lance Armstrong was facing a colossal lawsuit from the federal government, but didn’t know the details. I always assumed it was because sports doping is seen as a criminal matter in the US, which it generally isn’t elsewhere. Then I listened to the Joe Rogan podcast with Armstrong and found out it was for different reasons. As the BBC says:

The US Postal Service team ran from 1996 to 2004, with Armstrong winning seven Tour titles between 1999 and 2005.

So the reason the federal government is suing Armstrong is because the US Postal Service sponsored his team when he was doping. Now sure, there’s a case to answer but because it’s the federal government, well:

The team were paid about $32m (£23m) between 2000 and 2004, with the government potentially able to pursue ‘treble’ damages under the lawsuit, resulting in the $100m figure.

I suspect the reason why the case has been settled at “only” $5m is because, as Armstrong’s legal team always claimed, this is about damages and (according to the podcast) no less than 3 studies were carried out demonstrating that the US Postal Service benefited enormously from the publicity surrounding Armstrong’s victories (which was the whole point). I doubt the US Postal Service suffered any noticeable monetary or reputational loss when, 8 years after his last win and 9 since they stopped sponsoring Tour de France teams, it transpired their talisman was doping. I strongly suspect the $5m is symbolic, a chance for a few individuals in the federal government to advance up the career ladder and show the public they disapprove of cheating. Armstrong made the point that the reason cycling has been hit so hard is because the sport has no lobbyists in Washington DC working on their behalf, unlike banks for example.

The lesson here is never, ever do business with the government in any form unless you have protection in place, like a Russian krysha. If things go sour, and someone is looking to make a name for himself*, you could find the full force of the state bearing down on you, making up the rules as they go along.

*Ask Martha Stewart about that.


Tour de Farce

The demise of David Warner reminds me somewhat of Lance Armstrong. Warner didn’t cheat to anywhere near the same extent as Armstrong, but it’s interesting to see how people have reacted in each case.

Many cyclists have been caught doping, but few have faced the same levels of opprobrium as Armstrong. If you look at the rest of the field during the Tours that Armstrong won, they are chock-full of cyclists who’ve been caught doping; given how prevalent it was at the time, you’d probably need to go a long way down the standings to find a cyclist who was clean. This is why the UCI, the sport’s governing body, decided not to award the 1999-2005 tour victories to anyone when Armstrong was stripped of his titles (it normally goes to the runner-up, as it did in 2006 and 2010 when the winner was found to be doping). With luck, the sport is now a lot cleaner than it was and we’re not going to learn in future that Chris Froome and Vincenzo Nibali were doped to the eyeballs during their winning tours, but back then they were all at it.

I saw a good documentary a few years ago about the use of EPO in cycling, which concerned a newly-created team in the late 1990s or early 2000s hiring a coach who would absolutely insist there would be no doping. The trouble was, the team could barely make the qualification cut-off for each stage, and at one point were cycling as if they were time-trialling just to stay on the back of the peleton. The coach knew it was hopeless trying to compete in a field in which almost everyone was doping, so they started too. As they explained, they had no choice in a sport where the use of performance-enhancing drugs was the norm. It’s for this reason that I still believe Lance Armstrong was the best cyclist of his generation, and quite probably in the history of the sport. Having watched him win several of his tours, I was extremely disappointed to learn he was doping the whole time.

So why did he fall so heavily, when others managed to rehabilitate themselves? A friend who follows the sport said there were two reasons. Firstly, Armstrong had a habit of suing anyone suggested he’d been doping, which for those who knew all along would have been a bit hard to swallow – especially if it was they who were being sued. Secondly, Armstrong did not simply use performance enhancing drugs to give himself a boost, but he was active in promoting its use throughout his team, and would bully and threaten anyone who showed reluctance to participate. As the story unravelled, it became clear that Armstrong wasn’t just a cyclist who doped, he was responsible for doping becoming so much more embedded in the sport. By all accounts, it sounds as though Armstrong was a nasty, bullying, vindictive piece of work. This is why, when he fell from grace, few people were willing to stand up for him and many delighted in his comeuppance. Had he simply been a cyclist who doped along with everyone else and got caught, he’d have had a good chance of re-ingratiating himself with the fans and public.

David Warner is in a similar position now. Sure he has his defenders – as did Armstrong – but his past behaviour (which has been discussed on this blog in detail, so I won’t repeat it) is catching up with him. If he takes this to court, which is looking likely, we might find witnesses being called which will make him look considerably worse and we’ll see the past 5-10 years worth of dirty laundry being aired in public. As Bardon rightly points out, this will be a lot more interesting than your average test match.

Warner’s appeal was that he was a bogan from the wrong side of the tracks who done good, but the fairytale rather depends on the bogan actually turning good. Warner’s done the opposite, and I suspect there are plenty of powerful people within the Australian cricketing setup now saying “I told you so”. A few months ago I wrote the following criticism of the English Cricket Board following another Ashes humiliation:

[Ben Stokes] is rough and tattooed and aggressive, and what the ECB really wants is a team full of fresh-faced goody-two-shoes in blazers who granny would like tea with. The fact that they can’t bat for shit doesn’t seem to matter; preserving the squeaky-clean image of the ECB is apparently their top priority.

Someone at the ECB needs to pay the price for this, and his replacement needs to adjust priorities such that sending a decent, prepared side into a test series ranks higher than virtue-signalling.

In light of this ball-tampering fiasco, the publicity surrounding Warner, and the potential damage a court case will do to Australian cricket, I might have to revise that. Perhaps there’s a reason why the ECB appoint nice people in blazers like Strauss and Cook rather than battling thugs who try to win at all costs. I guess we’re going to find out which approach works best in the long run.


Tears of a Clown

Another day, another “tuff-as-fuck” Australian cricketer crying on television, this time cheater-in-chief David Warner. His waterworks weren’t as convincing as Smiths, and that’s saying something, but the acting coaches probably had less to work with. And I have little sympathy for this line of defence:

The abuse directed at Warner’s wife Candice and daughters in South Africa both on and off the field, starting in the first Test in Durban, was raised as a contributing factor to Warner’s decision, as alleged by CA, to direct Bancroft as to how to tamper with the ball using sandpaper at Newlands, with the knowledge and support of Smith.

One of the many things I found nauseating about Tony Blair was his thrusting his harridan wife and kids into the forefront when it looked good for him politically, and then whining incessantly about privacy when anyone asked him some basic questions about them. The best example of this was his spin machine making the absolute most of the birth of his son Leo, complete with dreamy family photos and softball interviews, but when asked if he had been given the MMR vaccine at the height of the Andrew Wakefield controversy, he refused to answer and bleated about privacy.

Now Warner is doing the same. He chose to strut his stuff leading a celebrity lifestyle, having married a woman who was already well-known for deeds both admirable and less so, and invoked his family for publicity purposes whenever it suited him. Hell, he even used them as a shield at the airport when he arrived back in Sydney. Anyone who gave a damn about their family would have arrived alone and taken the heat, having told his family to stay at home with the curtains drawn or disappear to a remote hotel somewhere. Yet all of a sudden he’s blaming his actions on the “abuse” his family received in South Africa. Yes, that’s right: the reason Warner conjured up a boneheaded plan to sandpaper a cricket ball is because his wife was being taunted by the South African fans.

Even in itself this is ludicrous, but let’s look at what happened. Warner, in keeping with the ethos of the Australian team under Lehmann and maintaining a tradition which seems to go back longer than I previously thought, spent his time in the field dishing out crude, infantile, and foul-mouthed abuse to the South African batsmen. In particular, he made a series of remarks about Quinton de Kock’s surname and allegedly made references to his mother and sister. What’s that about keeping family out of it? Oh no, that only applies to non-Australians. de Kock, being aware of Warner’s wife’s previous dalliance with (then) Canterbury Bulldog’s RL star Sonny Bill Williams in a nightclub toilet (la famille Warner is all class), he said:

“I hear your wife likes rugby players. She’s gonna like it here in South Africa, we have plenty.”

Which, of course, “crossed the line” and led to the now infamous altercation between the two players on the steps of the dressing room and, apparently, Warner to get everyone together and hatch a plot to sandpaper the ball. As you do.

Warner said it was difficult to go back to where he was mentally at the time of the decision.

This from the man who mercilessly mocked Jonathan Trott as he was going through obvious mental issues during the 2013-14 Ashes. I hope that Trott has been watching Warner’s demise unfold with a little smirk of satisfaction on his face. Of course he’s got far too much class and decency to say anything, but I hope he can take some comfort in it all the same. Ex-England batsman James Taylor had some interesting things to say in a recent article, too:

I was playing for England against Australia in a one-day international in Sydney and I had just been dismissed for a second-ball duck, lbw to Mitchell Starc. As I was walking off, head down, David Warner charged over and screamed abuse in my face.

I don’t need to repeat what he said, but that story from 2015 is enough to explain why a lot of cricketers around the world have little or no sympathy after hearing Warner had been suspended for 12 months. Many of them will feel this is a classic case of cricketing karma. As soon as you get personal on the field, you will find yourself with enemies.

Most of the the cricketing world is not interested in Warner’s “apology”, or his excuses, or how he will “look at how this has happened and who I am as a man”. They want him to shut up and disappear from cricket entirely and permanently. He should do so.


Crocodile Tears of a Nation

This is pathetic:

An emotional Steve Smith has broken down in tears addressing the ball tampering affair that cost him the Australian cricket captaincy and a one-year suspension from the game.

Smith cried on several occasions during the press conference in Sydney and had to be ushered from the room shortly after raising how he’d let down his father.

You cannot one minute be leading a team of swaggering, foul-mouthed yobs who are forever telling their opponents they should “man up” when they make the slightest complaint about your conduct, and the next be crying like a girl on television because you’ve been fired for your own blinding stupidity. Either you are catastrophically weak as a person and should never have been in such a position of leadership, or you’re putting it on in order to garner sympathy.

Nobody would mind if Australian cricketers behaved as gentlemen, as the New Zealanders do, and got a little emotional as Brendon McCullum sometimes did. It is the flip-flopping from one ludicrous extreme to the other that I find so grating, and which I mentioned in my previous post. But this is probably a symptom of the country as a whole: for all Australians’ reputation as being tough, frontier folk (which they undoubtedly once were) they are rapidly becoming a nation of insecure, rather pathetic individuals desperate to score woke points from one another with excruciating displays of political correctness and virtue-signalling. They claim to be tough and uncompromising, but live in the world’s leading nanny-state. They want to be seen as confident, but can’t abide the slightest criticism of their country even if it’s something both obvious and undeniable.

I’m being unfair to a lot of Australians, and I know many who don’t fit the description above or subscribe to the cultural Marxism which infests the country’s politics. But this is what makes it worse: Australia didn’t use to be like this, and it can still produce sensible people, but they seem to be lost at sea without a rudder. Instead of trying to tread a normal, sensible path they lurch from one extreme to the other, yelling from the rooftops in a manner which seems extremely artificial. Not everything needs to be hyped up to eleven.

Could Steve Smith and the rest of the Australian team not just gone out there, played cricket, done their best, and bask in either the glory of victory or go home and lick their wounds? That’s what every other team does, it doesn’t have to be the travelling circus it’s been turned it into. England might not be very good at cricket, but you can be sure they won’t disgrace themselves in New Zealand other than by way of the batting and bowling stats. You sure as hell aren’t going to get the whole population goading the team into behaving like fucking idiots resulting in the tour literally ending in tears. And sure, cricket isn’t as big in England as it is in Australia, but football is and when the English team gets bounced out of the World Cup in Russia at the group stage it’ll only be a handful of fans who disgrace themselves.

Australia needs to seriously grow up, and this process can start with their cricket team. Steve Smith should dry his fucking eyes then get back out and make a proper apology without all the theatrics. Their new captain then needs to tell his men to shut their mouths and play cricket, and keep it that way.


On the Australian Ball Tampering

I’m actually hoping this is true:

Former England captain Michael Vaughan is “pretty sure” Australia were ball-tampering during their 4-0 Ashes series victory in the winter.

I’m also hoping this ball tampering goes back to the 2013/4 Ashes when England got smashed 5-0, and even further to the 1990s when we could barely win a match. It would at least explain why we were so shite, other than the fact we weren’t much good at batting, bowling, and fielding. Being a little more serious, even if this ball tampering had occurred in previous games, I doubt it would have made a difference to the result.

So let’s talk about the incident itself. If the Australian cricket team had set out to destroy their reputation, it’s hard to see what they’d have done differently. Firstly, the idea that sticking dirt to a piece of tape and rubbing it on the ball would make a noticeable difference to the result is laughable. Even sandpapering it probably wouldn’t help. Sure, you might get some reverse swing but South Africa were all over Australia in the bowling department as well. It’s the sort of thing that might nick you a wicket but is hardly going to turn the game in your favour. So the actual plan itself was stupid.

Secondly, who the hell thought it was a good idea to try something like this with bright yellow tape in an era where 30 high-definition cameras watch every player for every second of the match, and each frame is scrutinised by millions of people who, by virtue of being cricket fans, have way too much time on their hands to begin with? It’s an idea so monumentally stupid both in intent and execution that it could only have come from an Australian cricketer. The culprits have been narrowed down to Steven Smith and David Warner, with the latter looking the more likely to be the brains behind the scheme. Tell me, does Warner look like the sort of chap you’d rely on to come up with a cunning plan of devilish ingenuity? Or does he look like someone who is too thick to know to come in from the rain?

I’ve always had a soft spot for Smith, ever since I saw interviews with him playing for Pune Warriors in the IPL. He came across as a decent sort of fellow, if a little dim, and he grew into a splendid batsman. However, he has handled this episode about as badly as possible. Leaving aside the stupidity of the plan, he should never have allowed a rookie like Cameron Bancroft to be involved, let alone take a leading role. Bancroft is 25 years old and was playing in only his 8th test. His career is now over before it properly began, and he probably agreed to it because he looked up to the likes of Warner and Smith and trusted them. As a professional sportsman he should have known better, but it is easy to see how peer pressure from senior players exerted itself.

What then made matters ten times worse is Smith shoving Bancroft in front of the cameras for a live interview to explain himself. It’s hard to think of a worse example of leadership than this. Smith should have walked out there alone and taken the entire blame himself, stating clearly that he instructed Bancroft to do it. Instead he let Bancroft stutter and stammer his way through a surprisingly frank explanation before wibbling on about how it was the decision of players in a “leadership group”. Clearly Smith is well versed in modern management practices whereby blame is dispersed among a vague and largely anonymous committee, but this wasn’t the time or place to deploy such a technique. He needed to have put his hands in the air and taken the hit for the entire team, limiting the damage done to the rest of them – especially junior players like Bancroft. As further evidence Smith would fit in well in any modern corporation, he used the interview to absolve his boss, the coach Darren Lehmann, of all blame even though it is inconceivable that he knew nothing about it. Even if he didn’t, Lehmann helped appointed these clowns to the team and allowed such a culture to develop, and therefore should shoulder a portion of the blame. So Smith had proved himself to be an absolutely shameful captain off the pitch, even if he wasn’t bad on it. Say what you like about Alistair Cook’s captaincy, but you can’t imagine him doing something like this. He’d rather lose the match by an innings, and Lord knows he probably even got used to doing so.

Which brings us to David Warner. I have written before about how I think Warner is an ignorant, classless, hypocritical piece of shit and my views of him were confirmed this series even before the ball tampering incident. Having spent half the match hurling abuse at Quinton de Kock, he cried foul when the South African keeper retaliated with a jibe about Warner’s wife. Cue outrage that de Kock had “crossed the line”, that arbitrary boundary between fair and foul that nobody but Australians can see and moves according to their whims, always in their favour. Hypocritical doesn’t even begin to describe it. In the post I link to above, I said of Warner:

Crying over the loss of a mate is fine, fella.  But not after you’ve strutted around like the schoolyard bully gobbing off about how tough you are while mocking fellow batsmen whose mind obviously isn’t quite right.

This article makes broadly the same point:

Cricket fans don’t mind rebels and they don’t mind do-gooders but they do struggle to accept it when they come in the one self-righteous, flip-flopping, two-toned package.

In the comments under my earlier post, Michael Jennings remarked that the rot in Australian cricket set in under Ponting, and I’d probably agree. There was a time when Australian cricketers really did deserve to be admired. William of Ockham rightly criticises the lack of sportsmanship and “win and all costs” mentality that Allan Border’s team brought to the game, but few can doubt that Border, Boon, Taylor, Healy, and Waugh were pretty tough guys who could back their words up with action. There then followed a quite incredible team which dominated world cricket for years, and elevated Australian players to almost mythical status: Langer, Hadyen, Ponting, Warne, Gilchrist, McGrath. But the team that came after were not as good, and Ponting was an awful captain. The team that came after them was worse still, and Michael Clarke was more of a preening metrosexual (albeit a handy batsman) than a rough-arse Allan Border type. As successive teams’ abilities and fortunes declined, they found themselves out of whack with the hype that surrounded them, foisted on the players by a public who’d deluded themselves into thinking the legendary status earned by Warne & Co. was permanent. Worse than that, both the players and public thought they were entitled to such status merely by pulling on the baggy green, before they’d even stepped onto the pitch.

The celebrity status bestowed on the players (reinforced by the ludicrous posturing over the death of Philip Hughes) and the money from TV deals, combined with the entitlement mentality, ushered in a culture of almost zero accountability. Australian cricketers were free to strut their stuff, demanding this and rejecting that, confident they would get their way regardless of how they performed with bat and ball. Granted not every player succumbed to this, but the whole setup reeked of it. It was only in an environment where weak management answered to over-entitled players that someone like Warner could be appointed vice-captain of the national team. The players’ pay dispute, and Warner’s behaviour during it, should have served as a warning but it went unheeded. It is only under this environment that this ball tampering incident could have occurred; a few years ago, it would have been unthinkable.

The behaviour of Australia’s cricketers over the past decade has slowly eroded much of the goodwill foreigners and even many Australians had towards their team, especially when performances were dire (as they often were). It’s why so many are piling on now, basking in schadenfreude as the likes of Warner finally get their comeuppance. I must confess I’m one of them, but I’m disappointed for Smith and feel rather sorry for Bancroft. What pleases me most, though, is that South Africa smashed them in the second and third tests and the whole episode serves as a handy distraction from England’s abysmal performance in New Zealand. Gulp.


VAR: Very Awful Refereeing

At least a decade after rugby and cricket introduced video technology to help on-field referees and umpires fairly adjudicate matches, English football is now experimenting with it for FA Cup games. The results are rather amusing:

At times, fans had no idea what was going on as the referee waited for instructions in his earpiece and the half-time whistle was greeted by a chorus of boos from home supporters.

Lamela’s early goal was disallowed after the VAR ruled Llorente had pulled Harrison McGahey’s shirt – but it took about a minute for the officials to reach their decision, by which time both teams had lined up for the game to restart.

After Son had fired Spurs ahead from 12 yards when he was afforded too much space, the hosts were awarded a penalty when Trippier was fouled by Matt Done. At first, the referee gave a free-kick on the edge of the area before pointing to the spot after another VAR delay.

Son scored from the spot but the celebrations were cut short when Tierney ruled it out without allowing it to be retaken because the South Korea forward, who was booked, had stopped in his run-up.

Video technology had teething problems when first introduced to rugby and cricket, but not like this. For a start, there seems to be some debate over what the rules actually are, never mind how they are applied in a video replay. The video assistant referee (VAR) awarded the penalty last night because, although the foul had “started” outside the area, it “continued” into the penalty area. This could well be the first time in footballing history that such a justification has been used to award a penalty. It happens occasionally in other sports, but rarely does one get the impression watching replays in rugby or cricket that the assistant referee or third umpire is watching entirely different footage and applying quite different rules from what we’re used to.

Moreover, the entire system is a shambolic, amateur effort. In a previous match, the screen the referee reviews was propped up at the end of the tunnel, and he had to run over to watch it.

This happened at Anfield, where there is no big screen. Then during a Manchester United match this graphic popped up on millions of TV screens around the world as viewers waited for the VAR to rule on an offside call:

Somebody later explained this line wasn’t actually used to make the offside call:

But nobody explained what the hell this “wrong image” was supposed to be depicting. Why did it even exist?

I suppose I should have known better, this being football, but I’d have thought the FA would have brought in some serious professionals, trained the referees and technical people properly, coordinated with the broadcasters, and done several weeks of dry practice-runs using old footage to iron out any teething problems. Instead, it looks as though they’ve handed the whole lot off to a bunch of amateurs who are making it up as they go along. Sure we can expect a few problems in the first few weeks, but given how long this technology has been around, you’d have thought the world’s number one sport could do better than this.

I’m half-minded to think this is being done deliberately, to justify not taking the VAR system any further. If so, they’re doing a good job of it.


Poisoned Chalice

I’ve written before about the state of the England woman’s football association, which is less known for any on-field success than the various parliamentary inquiries, investigations, grievances, and internal reviews related to a certain Nigerian-born lawyer who is doing a good job of shaking the organisation down. All the fuss concerned the previous manager Mark Sampson, who supposedly engaged in racial discrimination against Chelsea and England striker Eniola Aluko. He got the boot, and yesterday ex-Manchester United and Everton defender Phil Neville was appointed to the role. Predictably, within hours:

Phil Neville’s appointment as head coach of the England women’s football team has been overshadowed by allegations of sexism.

Shortly after the former Manchester United and England footballer was named as the Lionesses’ new boss, Twitter users began to share controversial tweets that the star wrote six years ago.

Controversial? So what did he do? Downplay FGM? Sing the virtues of Sharia law? Condone wife-beating? Not quite:

In 2012, he had posted: “Morning men couple of hours cricket be4 work sets me up nicely for the day.”

Asked why he only referred to men in his post, he replied: “When I said morning men I thought the women would of been busy preparing breakfast/getting kids ready/making the beds-sorry morning women!”

Sorry, but my pearls remain unclutched.

The 41-year-old deleted the posts and took down his Twitter account as criticism grew.

He’d have been better off tweeting “Fuck this for a game of soldiers!”, resigning on the spot, and doing something else in a field which contains the occasional adult. It’s not like he needs the money.