By Stewart Weir
Dan Wheldon, 1978–2011 Picture: US Army / Jim Greenhill
All we ever hear about in football is technology and the desire to use it to make refereeing decisions right. Proof today that all the technology in the world doesn’t necessarily mean the right decision will be arrived at.
Referee Alain Rolland stunned everyone by producing a red card to dismiss Wales captain Sam Warburton early in their Rugby World Cup semi-final against France.
No one I know said Rolland got it right, except the International Rugby Board (IRB).
“Alain Rolland’s decision to issue a red card was absolutely correct,” said referees manager Paddy O’Brien. Well they and he would say that, wouldn’t they?
Of course, Rolland made his decision on his own, without consultation, and quickly. But would it have been different had he asked an assistant or the TMO (television match official)? Based on what every expert who saw it a second time said, I have to think “yes”.
On every poster or ticket for a car race or rally there is a simple warning. It reads: “Motorsport is dangerous.”
On Sunday those dangers were exposed in the most horrendous and devastating form when British driver Dan Wheldon was killed when he was involved in a 15-car pile-up at the Las Vegas Indy 300, the final race of the 2011 season.
Drivers had warned prior to the race that the track wasn’t big enough to take a 34-car field, where Wheldon – who had been unable to secure a regular drive this season despite winning the Indianapolis 500 – started at the back of the pack.
Had he succeeded in crossing the line first, he would have received a $5 million bonus (later rounded down to under £200,000). Not that this was a contributory factor in his accident. He was a racer who wanted to race.
Wheldon, married with two young children, was still relatively unknown in the UK outside the motorsport community, but he was twice a winner of IndyCar’s biggest race, the Indy 500, winning around the Brickyard in 2005 and for a second time just five months ago.
His death, the first in IndyCar since 2006, meant there was no celebration for Scotland’s Dario Franchitti who won the overall IndyCar championship once again, but who had warned in advance that he thought this race was an accident waiting to happen.
It also reinforced, for those many millions who might easily have forgotten, that motorsport, entertaining as it might be, can be a deadly business.
Wheldon’s death shocked the world. But where in the world of motorsport should he be placed?
A glance at the record books shows him third after Jim Clark and Graham Hill in the list of Brits to win the Indy 500. Certainly, a talent lost.
Gough, McCoist, Cooper, Young, Gascoigne, Laudrup, Butcher, Morton, Waddell, Johnstone, Cox, Goram, Thornton, McPhail, Albertz, Caldow, Shearer, Johnston, Brand, Millar – oh, and Baxter. And if I’ve missed anyone from that list, well, I’m sorry. But the reality is you are just making up the numbers.
Because everyone else who has ever donned the light blue, royal blue or lilac blue (for those who wore the not-guaranteed-for-one-machine-wash Admiral number) comes second to one man in the list of Rangers greats. Because he is the greatest.
Not me saying that about John Greig. The club, the fans, and players past and present have acknowledged that fact. Unfortunately, it would appear the new regime at Ibrox is not quite as accommodating.
Today Greig resigned as a director of Rangers, marginalised in his position by the new owners.
The majority of those who every other Saturday (occasionally Sunday and not always at three o’clock) turn up at Ibrox to see their team can take loss, debt, sheriff officers, HMRC, dodgy results, dodgier players, court orders by previous “establishment” figures, freezing of assets and unbalanced reporting.
But alarm bells really started ringing on Monday amongst the red, white and blue ranks when Greig, and former chairman John McClelland, quit the club.
That someone like Greig has seen it proper to call time on the club he loves (next to Hearts) brought everything of what has gone before to a head. “What is going on?” was the question, if not directly asked today by Rangers fans, then certainly one that crossed their minds more than once.
Craig Whyte has invested in – or inherited – a ticking, toxic, financial time bomb.
He might make it safe. Or he might need others to help. But keeping the support informed and onside, I would have thought was a must. And having the “Greatest Ever Ranger” walk out the door is hardly going to endear Craig Whyte to many Gers fans who still see him as a Motherwell boy made good who can afford a very expensive Rangers tie.
Top of the league, glamour friendly with Liverpool next, and Rangers make the headlines by withdrawing “all co-operation” with the BBC over what it said were “repeated difficulties” with the broadcaster this season.
Much of this stems from when a news reporter gatecrashed a football-only press conference to confront new manager Ally McCoist – on the eve of his first league match in charge of the champions – on the issue of sectarianism.
Not the done thing, and a tactic that left some experienced heads within BBC Scotland Sport shaking.
While that was patched up, the proposed documentary to be aired this week is viewed by Rangers as “prejudiced muckraking exercise” – another example, perhaps, of what they perceive to be biased BBC reporting deemed “neither accurate nor fair”.
Fair comment, some would say. Others would call it siege mentality mixed with a soupçon of paranoia.
The BBC, meanwhile, said it denied the allegation and placed “absolute value” on its “accuracy and impartiality”.
Is that the same kind of “accuracy and impartiality” which saw a wee weather lassie refer to Ibrox as “Castle Greyskull” (actually home of the He-Man good guys), or tagged a photo of one-time Gers midfielder as Kevin “c***” Thomson”, or labelled a picture of Nell McAndrew modelling the new Rangers kit as “the hun”? Or is that paranoia, albeit examples seen by thousands?
The notion that Rangers don’t do bans is of course true only to a certain generation who have, for the most part, only ever had to deal with people such as Walter Smith and Alex McLeish, who would tell you to your face what problems they had, leave you in no doubt as to their feelings, then drop it and move on. Sir David Murray was in much the same mould.
But others can recall when banning orders were a regular occurrence under former manager Graeme Souness. James Traynor, then of the Herald, was one such target.
His sports editor, Eddie Rodger, decided two could play that game, and would only use pictures of Rangers players wearing the club’s old kit – or worse (or better) still, use ancient pics of people wearing CR Smith-sponsored jerseys when Rangers were backed by McEwan’s Lager (or “Pish Lager” to dedicated readers of Not The View). Traynor was soon reinstated.
Could a similar tactic work for BBC Scotland? Not really. Not when you place “absolute value” on your “accuracy and impartiality”. And the fact that Gers supporters, for all their Sky and ESPN packages, still pay your wages.
Story about bigotry – captions with orange parades or guys with Rangers gear on.
Story about football violence – picture of Rangers supporters.
Story about Hearts fans booing a minute’s silence when the Pope dies – picture of Rangers fans.
Wales coach Warren Gatland receives a mixed response to his claim that the Welsh coaching staff considered cheating during semi-final loss to France.
Gatland admitted that, with Warburton sent off and prop Adam Jones injured, they talked through the possibility of feigning injury to another prop, which would have led to uncontested scrums.
Wales decided equally quickly to play by the rules. But Gatland’s comments dismayed the IRB, baffled others and were praised in other quarters.
If you considered cheating, and don’t, why tell anyone?
And if you considered cheating, and don’t, are you an upholder of morality, or someone whose morals who should be questioned for what you thought in the first place?
Me, if I was going to do it, I’d have done it. And if not, I’d have kept my mouth shut – unless it was full of fake blood.
Peace in professional snooker doesn’t last very long.
This week, Ronnie O’Sullivan, the three-times world champion and arguably still the biggest attraction in the game, claims the game’s governing body is “raping” him by making ranking points available for smaller tournaments.
The language is emotive. Stephen Maguire is another to sound off, saying he feels like a “prostitute” turning up to play because he has to.
O’Sullivan’s problem is that he doesn’t want to play in the Players Tour Championship events, of which there are a dozen and which have a first prize of £10,000. More importantly, however, they carry ranking points.
And points win prizes in snooker, because with them you can stay in the elite top 16. Without them, you need to qualify for some major events.
So for good attendance, and a few good runs, you can push yourself up the rankings – great is you are a lesser, journeyman pro, not so great if you are one of the star turns. It’s a bit like asking Frank Sinatra to play Cleland Miners’ Welfare as a way of keeping his Las Vegas gig.
Still, Barry Hearn, leader of the snooker circus for more than a year now, can continue to do it his way, because the players, many of whom voted him into office, gave him the mandate to do things his way.
The players, when getting rid of the previous regime wanted two things; more money and more tournaments, the latter without really specifying what kind of tournaments.
There is more money. It’s just that it’s shared around differently. And there are certainly more tournaments. So they got what they demanded, although now they might appreciate exactly what is meant by “beware of what you ask for”.
France name the same team as beat Wales for the Rugby World Cup final against New Zealand on Sunday. Well, not exactly.
Because on Sunday, Alain Rolland is only a touch judge.
– Tweet Stewart Weir with thoughts and comments, @sweirz
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