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Fallibility is what makes sport so compelling
Richard Seeckts
September 19, 2013
Referee Romain Poite shows South Africa's Bismarck du Plessis a yellow card © Getty Images

Who would be a referee? This week it's Frenchman Roman Poite in the firing line for howlers committed against South Africa, next week it will be someone else, and the week after someone else again.

South African readers, flinging more stones around in their glass houses than most this week, should take a deep breath and get some perspective, and not only because theirs is the nation that gave us Andre Watson and Craig Joubert.

As the renowned German philosopher and rugby-phile Boris Becker reminded melodramatic tennis fans in 1987, "I didn't lose a war. Nobody died, I lost a tennis match." Exemplary dignity from a 19-year-old.

Some astonishingly vitriolic stuff has been said and written about Poite and his errors in Auckland, specifically with regard to the dismissal of Bismarck du Plessis. It is dangerous to assume the author of, "The stupid little frog eater deserves the guillotine," on this site was joking. Technology's downfall is that it allows people to reveal themselves as one-eyed bigots when, given a little cooling off time, some might moderate their views.

Stirred up by televised rants like Nick Mallett's, however, many will fail to remember that match officials, like players, are fallible. Fallibility is what makes sport so compelling. How interesting would sport be if its players and arbiters were infallible? Most sports fans have learned to accept that players have poor days, play bad shots, drop balls, make wrong decisions, and yet all hell breaks loose when match officials make mistakes. And it's a pretty safe bet that those shouting loudest at the referee have never tried his job.

"Cricket, a game of minute margins and infinite detail, is learning the painful way that no amount of technology can eliminate human error."

In New Zealand, they are still smarting about the disallowed 'try' Bob Deans scored in Cardiff in 1905. The All Blacks had won all 27 matches on tour until Scottish referee John Dallas, who was too unfit to keep up with play, denied them that score and condemned them to a 3-0 defeat. To add insult to injury, New Zealand had a 19 year wait to right the wrong of that day in Cardiff. Goodness knows what the brutes of 'social' media would have condemned Mr Dallas to.

From that day forth, there has been a stream of cock-ups both in favour and against every team and every nation in every sport. Technology, espoused by so many as the tool to ensure that wrong decisions are eliminated, or at least minimised, serves in equal measure to provoke more uncertainty, more debate by highlighting detail never seen in years gone down.

Cricket, a game of minute margins and infinite detail, is learning the painful way that no amount of technology can eliminate human error.

Poor adjudicating is a fact of life in all sport, one that mankind is increasingly unable to accept in the technological age. But show a definitive picture of one contentious incident to opposing teams and they will offer contrary interpretations of it.

The injustice of modern professional sport is that players and coaches get away with inciting lynch mob behaviour from the public in their post-match attempts to justify failure. The referees, meanwhile, are bound to remain silent unless and until an apology is demanded.

If rugby broadcasters want innovation, they could interview referees after matches, giving them license to say exactly what they think of cynical coaching methods and the organised cheating they have to contend with every time they take the field.

This week's aggrieved South Africans have only three weeks to wait for an opportunity to show they can beat the All Blacks with 15 players on the pitch. Imagine if they had to wait 19 years.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

Richard Seeckts' rugby career consisted of one school match where he froze on the wing and despite no substitutes being available he was withdrawn from the game at half-time for mocking the opposition's line-out calls. Thereafter Richard and the sport agreed active participation was not the way ahead, but that has not prevented him from avidly writing about and watching the game. He now contributes his random observations to the Crooked Feed blog on ESPNscrum.com