Sports rules need simplicity and clarity

GGG v Canelo scorecards


Life isn’t perfect and so neither can we expect sport to be. Injustices will always happen no matter how much effort we put in to minimise them. It’s frustrating however when the rules that lead to the injustices are not clear, not consistently adhered to and when no explanations are given for seemingly incorrect decisions.

Despite a million and one incidents, many sports still fail to adhere to the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) principle and make life easier for all involved. Perhaps they don’t really want to. It’s often said that the controversy makes for good publicity after all.

The weekend provided us with plenty of talking points, reasons for football managers to be aggrieved and left a huge amount of already extremely tired boxing fans very confused.

The incidents at Wembley on Saturday evening in the Tottenham v Swansea fixture were far from the worst examples of refereeing that I’ve seen but Mike Dean did miss a stonewall penalty (not 3 as some have suggested) for a foul on Serge Aurier. I’m actually in favour of referees not giving decisions unless absolutely sure but any kudos he acquired here was cancelled out by the fact that the reason he didn’t give it was because he’d ‘spotted’ a handball that didn’t happen. You can’t be 100% sure about something which you couldn’t have seen and the benefit of doubt should have been given to the striker and thus a penalty awarded.

The other 2 major decisions were, in my opinion, correct, but these potential handball offences highlight that we still have problems when it comes to handling rules. One would think that the simplest thing to do is either 1) make all scenarios where the ball strikes an outfield players hand a hand-ball offence, regardless of intent, or 2) only rule it an offence if the referee deemed the handling intentional. Having not managed to decide collectively which of these referees will follow, hand-ball now seems to have been complicated further.

At a recent speakers event, ex-referee Chris Foy (no, that’s not the Velodrome cyclist) made me aware that handball can now be handball if a player has time to get his hand out of the way but didn’t actually move his hand towards it or even intend to handle it. This strikes me as being extremely subjective. As, you might say, many refereeing decisions are, but surely we don’t need to add further complications to something already confusing. Similar was done with offside decisions and we’ve ended up with more controversy and injustice felt. We’ve also made refereeing more difficult in the process. We certainly didn’t want to be doing that.

It looked clear to most that Martin Olsson didn’t intend to handle the ball but now we also have to decide if he could have got his hand out of the way. The cross came from some 30 plus yards away so you could argue yes until you see via the slow-mo that it took a nick off another player a few yards before it reached his hand and now you’re thinking no again. Mike Dean looked to have ended up calling it correctly but I’d be very surprised if he was able to judge it like this in real-time.

I’m not sure how long the law has been like this. Perhaps this rule of distance and being able to get your hand out of the way has been around for longer than I’d been aware and I just not bothered to look at the rules. Silly me for thinking that they would simply follow common sense.

If we thought football had it bad then boxing is on another level. It was clear to almost everyone watching that Golovkin v Canelo on Saturday night was, at the very least, an extremely close contest. The consensus was also that GGG (Golovkin) won the fight and although sometimes the more pressing of the two boxers can be incorrectly deemed as the winner by the audience, GGG also landed more scoring punches. Canelo perhaps executed the more eye-catching shots and his movement was technically superior but it was almost impossible to see how he could have won 10 out of the 12 rounds whilst throwing so few punches. This was how one judge scored it.

Perhaps number of punches doesn’t account for as much as we think, neither pressure either, and maybe Adalaide Byrd was the one that called it correctly but that then means we have 2 judges calling it massively wrong and not just one. The fact that their opinions differ so much must surely mean they are not singing from the same rules sheet. I’ve watched a fair number of fights over the years and I’ve never heard anyone discuss the scoring process in anything like any detail. I’m probably what you’d call a casual boxing fan but in order to get more people to enjoy a sport you need a potential audience to be able to easily understand it.

I think complexity and a lack of understanding is the reason horse racing has problems gaining new followers.