By Tony Attwood
Blimey! I say again, “blimey!” I take the day off to go and see “Kinky Boots” – the wonderfully funny feel-good musical in the West End, and return to open the computer the next morning and find not just one, but two football stories that made me feel good.
One of the two tales is about something awful, I must admit, but it is used by the writer as way of attacking the UK’s appalling government policy on sport. The other really makes me feel like maybe, just maybe, all the work by Untold’s writers on refereeing across the years has been really, really worth it.
The good coverage of an awful tale comes in the Guardian and is by Marina Hyde. This is for me a real case of credit where it is due because I’ve been having a bash about the paper’s way of tackling football for a while.
But the piece “Welcome to the UK, ethically challenged butler to Qatar’s World Cup dreams” absolutely hits the nail where it should be thumped.
It all started with a tweet from trade minister Greg Hands, in which he announced: “In Qatar to open our #SportIsGreat conference, supporting Qatar’s 2022 World Cup & offering UK to be the partner of choice for delivery.”
Ms Hyde then tells us that “Greg wrote an obsequious comment piece for the Peninsula, the Qatari English-language daily, in which he widened his focus to include all the 437 major athletic events to which the … sport-mad, is it? … autocracy has now acquired hosting rights.”
Now I won’t go on quoting line after line of the article, you can obviously read it yourself, but allow me, if you will, to give these snippets.
“Maybe democratically elected governments are, to quote a phrase, at the “back of the queue”. There is, of course, a rich precedent for this. In the arms sector, Britain has long operated an autocracies-first policy, with almost half our exports last year going to 21 of the Foreign Office’s 30 “human rights priority countries” – places where “the worst, or greatest number of, human rights violations take place”. So if we can live with that, I think we can make our peace with being the ethically challenged butler for the globally popular idea that is the Qatar World Cup.”
And a little later
“UK has marked itself out as keen to assist in Qatar’s creepy project to launder its reputation via the medium of sport. Because as almost everyone can see, that’s what’s going on here.”
In essence, if you have shared Untold’s dismay and disgust at the Qatar World Cup, do read the article.
But there is also something else that is hiding in all of this. Something else that is rather close to my heart.
If you do drop by occasionally you will know of my persistent (and undoubtedly by now utterly boring) rants about the lack of evidence when writing about football. Indeed it was the utter misuse of evidence that kicked off my complaints about the Guardian in the first place. And you will have seen the correspondents here who when asked what evidence they have for some assertion about Arsene Wenger holding the club back, or Ozil nicking a living whatever, they say, “the evidence of my own eyes”. To which I, of course reply, “that’s just like the evidence that the sun goes round the earth – because that’s what your eyes tell you.”
Well now we have the government doing the same. Accused by the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament of not having a plan for getting the UK out of the EU the Prime Minister said words to the effect that “Of course we have a plan. Our plan is to get the best deal for Britain”.
It’s bad enough when football journalists do that sort of thing, but when the government uses it as its prime response, I get the feeling we are in real trouble. Cozying up to the likes of Qatar via the medium of sport really does show where we have got to.
Anyway, moving on to the Telegraph. And Walter, Andrew and Usama you might want to sit down before reading this one…
“Premier League begins conducting secret video technology trials”
Yep, it seems that week after week, month after month, year… well you get the rest… of banging on and on about the terribly low quality of refereeing in the Premier League, and of how in some matches one would get a more accurate response to events if one had a computer giving judgements on incidents at random, something might be happening.
You may well have noticed how we’ve really challenged the ultra secretive PGMO clique this season by publishing in depth referee reviews of Arsenal games, and cumulative week by week analyses of referee competence, and the effect it has on each club overall, plus reviews of all the major incidents in all the PL games each week, complete with video evidence.
Well, is it too much of a leap from that to say, this time we have finally pushed the appalling misleading and inept organisation that is destroying the very heart of football (with the connivance of the media I must add – including the Telegraph which once ran a couple of PGMO press releases as news), into a modicum of action?
Here’s what the Telegraph says…
“Secret video technology trials are being conducted during Premier League matches this season, Telegraph Sport can reveal.”
At first site seems that PGMO have been by-passed, because these are “unofficial tests”, but reading on, it looks like once again the Telegraph are publishing the official PGMO press release line.
Now we know that the referee association, so secretive that it makes the Masons look like a Come All Ye down at the local, is utterly, totally, completely, and 101%ly against this video malarkey – so yes, it was always on the cards that the trials would to be in secret and then leaked out to the one newspaper it could rely on.
Part of the reason is, as the Telegraph rather misleadingly puts it, “England has yet to sign up to formal trials that are already being conducted in other countries”. In fact PGMO claimed via the Telegraph a year ago again in a press release that they were at the heart of the issue. But we all knew what this meant was that they had been bringing in extra reinforced concrete for the walls of PGMO House, while digging ever deeper trenches outside.
In the test matches two refs watch the match and practice intervening to tell the ref he’s wrong. So not quite the open refereeing that we have wanted but a step towards the approval that the IFAB gave to video refereeing last year.
The Telegraph also announces that these trials have “flagged up between two and four decisions per match that would qualify for video analysis.” And assuming that these are “important decisions” in the Untold lexicon then that’s a fair start.
The infamous Mike Riley is quoting (and I think these are the words in the secretive memo from PGMO to the Telegraph) that, “We have trialled using video assistant referees for 12 Premier League games so far this season.” So there we are. What Untold, with zero resources save a group of highly dedicated referees and enthusiasts, have been doing year after year after year, finally PGMO has done… wait for it… 12 games. We’ve done every PL game this season, and they have done… twelve. Oh but some internationals (not involving England) have been done too.
The Telegraph’s summary is that, “All live experiments involve a video assistant referee having access to replays during the match and either reviewing an incident on request by the referee or communicating with the referee proactively about an incident that may have been missed. The tests will take place for two years before the IFAB decides whether to change the laws of the game in time for referrals to be used at every match at the next World Cup…”
But despite all the attempts of the Telegraph to paint their chums at PGMO in a good light and suggest the PL is in the vanguard of evolutionary reform, even they have to announced that the Italian Referees’ Association are contemplating starting live video refereeing next season.
It is not happening in the PL because… well you can make up your own minds. Or if in doubt read some of our referee reviews with video evidence.
Of course no one will ever admit our week after week and year after year campaign ever had anything to do with it – and maybe it didn’t. In the end it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that ultimately we clean up refereeing in the Premier League.