IRB World Cup Rugby Championship robbed of its Credibility, Glamour and Appeal.

I was one of many Welsh Rugby fans today that was bitterly disappointed to see the team crash out of the World Cup after having so valiantly reached the semi finals. Like so many other people I believe that the Welsh team were robbed of their opportunity by an unfair decision by the referee. This is not to say that the official lost Wales the game, I think that there were so pretty basic errors on the field when it came down to the nitty gritty, but I do believe that he had a detrimental effect on the outcome of the game, and the perception of the game by a good many people.

Lets be honest, the officials of any sporting fixture always fall foul of blame when it comes to the analysis of difficult decisions, but after the massive effort and great leadership that the rugby fraternity has shown in making available to the referee’s, touch judges and the fourth official some of the most advanced technical enhancements in sporting judgement, I don’t believe that it is far fetched to expect the match officials to make full use of the facilities at his beck and call to make careful and considered decisions.

As a fan, I’d rather have a game delayed by a few minutes to make sure that the best possible decision is made for the good of the game. I am certain that the multitude of fans would say the same. I am even certain that the French fans, who I guess are pretty staggered to learn that their team is now in the final of the 2011 World Cup somewhat undeservedly in my opinion, would agree that the decision made on the field today negatively impacted on the game overall.

I suppose there will be some that would argue that if the tables had been reversed I’d not be making such a statement, but let us examine the facts.

I believe that there are two teams that have been despatched from the world cup competition this year through questionable decisions by the officials. Yes Wales is one of them, and secondly I would considerSouth Africato have been denied an opportunity through the disallowing of a try by Patrick Lambie in the quarter final game against Australia for an alleged forward pass.

I accept that being an official is a difficult responsibility and as human beings we are bound to make errors. It is for this very reason that after considerable campaigning to eradicate this uncertainty from the sport, that considerable investment was made to support the officials. It is therefore irresponsible to not make full use of these facilities in sensitive and decisive decisions that are going to make a massive impact on the players on the field.

I am fully aware that players missed opportunities on the field. I know Hook had ample chance to level the score board before the break. We know that Jones could have converted the conversion attempt after the try, and should have taken the chance for a drop goal when the opportunity presented itself late in the second half. It was disappointing that when it was really needed, the boot of Halfpenny just didn’t have the oomph to carry the ball a few inches higher. Yes all these opportunities presented themselves through the course of the seventy odd minutes that the Welsh team played without their fifteenth man. Is it fair to ask if these misses were as a result of added pressure, frustration and disappointment after the official’s decision?

It is natural for a team to dig deep when their number is reduced. It is natural to go defensive to avoid attack. However I do not accept that France looked like an attacking team in any way shape of form during the game. For this reason alone, the Welsh team were lucky and were able to produce moments of fantastic drama on the pitch as they carved their way through the French defence to score a try.

The French in fairness played a strong defensive game, making very few errors under pressure and therefore reducing the chances for the Welsh team to turn penalties into points. This ultimately was the downfall of the Welsh Team. Without the strength of numbers to maintain a robust defence while applying attacking pressure consistently over the course of the game meant that our main scoring potential through forced errors was snuffed out by a well disciplined French team.

The lack of a co-ordinated attack from the French also gave Wales breathing space as they were able to push forward without running themselves ragged in covering the gaps in the defensive line. So while it was unfortunate to see the referee’s decision sour the nature of the game, I can honestly say that I do believe that the Welsh team should take comfort from the fact that in the end it was a mere point that knocked them out of the running to lift the Web Ellis trophy next weekend.

In the greater scheme of things, I am of the opinion that men who are given the responsibility of refereeing such an important match, men like Allan Rowland who have vast amounts of experience and should have known better, should be held accountable for the dodgy decisions that they make on the field. If a player steps out of line and brings the game into disrepute through their actions, the governing body issues disciplinary procedures, fines and even bans to players. The same should apply to match officials who are too quick to jump to a conclusion when tools for considered judgement are at their disposal.

It is wrong when the decision of an official becomes the main point of focus and the enduring memory of a match, and the efforts, sportsmanship and determined grit of a team to win despite the adversity is forgotten. It is wrong when the fans, players and our nations are denied the opportunity of a balanced and dynamic sporting spectacle by the misjudgement of one individual.

Today’s event will eventually be forgotten, and the game will eventually be spoken of as the time thatWalesalmost made it to a World Cup Final. The sad fact of today’s fiasco is that the brilliance of the likes of Warren Gatland, Sam Warburton (who incidentally had been praised up to this point for being such a remarkable ambassador for fairness and sportsmanship in the game), Leigh Halfpenny, Gethin Jenkins, George North, Luke Chateris, Toby Faletau and so many more who played their hearts out and pulled off a remarkable achievement of becoming the dark horse of the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

I believe that the IRB needs to do some deep soul searching after these issues. Rugby is a game to be decided by two teams that clash in controlled violence in an effort to score a try. The official is there to enhance the game, not impact on the result of who gets to the final through making a hasty decision, even if it was a decision he felt he was forced to make in following the laws laid out by the IRB. This isn’t sport anymore when one man can alter the perception of a game in the eyes of the International community, and you only have to look at the reaction on the net from all manner of corners to realise that this time they have got it badly wrong.

I pray that Wales get to keep the genius of Warren Gatland for at least another four years as he continues to mould, shape and build a team that has every right to expect to win a World Cup Final. I also hope that the IRB learn from the mistakes made today and by 2015 in the UK we have a fairer, better trained and more co-ordinated approach to officiating the matches of the next World Cup. After all we cannot afford to continue to spend millions of dollars on events watched by millions of people who ultimately perceive the sport as a major disappointment.

Team GB. A myth or a Sleeping Giant?

I took some time this afternoon to watch the Gymnastic World Championships coverage on BBC2. What a treat of really quite sublime talent brought together in one concentrated effort to win.

It was the male team finals that I was lucky enough to catch, and as I sat and watched a number of things struck me. Firstly was the lack of any form of challenge from a British team in the finals, something one year out from London 2012 made acutely aware that there are still large areas within the sporting fraternity where Britain have little or no credible representation.

Another thing that I contemplated was the complexity of judging. Much of what I was looking at seemed to be just a blur of flick flacks, spins, jumps and massive tumbles. I frequently found myself baffled as a routine that seemed fluid and packed full of dynamic skills with good speed and little obvious mistakes ended up with a reward of less points than a routine with as glaring an error as a full from the high bar.

We don’t have to be told that there is a lot of skill in being a world class gymnast, and even more skill in being able to sit there and make sense of the whirl wind of individual sets of a complete routine. Judges are watching exactly what I am watching, at the same speed, with the similar restrictions of distance, angle and distraction, yet they are processing the performance based on each key components difficulty, presentation and fluidity in context of the competitors overall routine, and doing so in split seconds. Now that is a skill to admire.

There was once a time where if you were to talk about gymnastics on the world stage you would be talking about Russia or the USSR as it was known back then. Russia was a power house for producing some of the finest athletes on the gymnastics stage, but since the demise of the Communist state it seems that dominance has now fallen to another Communist state. China is the new power house of international gymnastics, and I had to ponder the merits of the Communist system in relation to its production of amazing athletes. In a society where state education is a fundamental importance as is the case in a communist regime, it seems that sporting programs are able to identify talent at an early age, and mechanisms are in place to nurture this talent to extraordinary levels.

While the whole concept of Communism is somewhat distasteful to the western world, I do wonder to myself if there are elements of the ethos of communism that do infact build a better world for its inhabitants. I mean coming back to my point about the lack of representation of British athletes; I tend to believe that ultimately one of the major factors that inhibits our nation is its lack of attention to sport at youth levels. Far too many schools have no form of sporting program, and those that do place little emphasis on excellence or development. Children are encouraged to take part because it’s necessary for health and curriculum.

Spotting and nurturing talent is left the likes of Simon Cowell or the Britain’s Got Talent team. Now that the Olympics have come to town, there is a sudden rewal of interest in supporting sport development through the country, but I did wonder what impact a television program focused on selecting, training and developing say a Football Team would have on society in the UK.

Imagine, SKY TV or ITV or the BBC offering the British public the opportunity to audition for a place in a team that would be put together, trained and mentored over say a three year period with the guarantee of a season in the Premiership Division of the FA Football League. Maybe a ridiculous dream to achieve, but when you consider that each year over 200,000 people audition for the X Factor, what would eight years of a sports styled reality show with realistically tangible rewards achieve – A decent National Squad? Now there is food for thought.

Its funny how something as simple as sitting watching a little sport on television can create some truly bizarre ideas, but also point the finger at some glaring failures by both the public and government of our country. Britain used to be the nation to beat, but generations of lack of support, inadequate funding, resources, facilities and inspiration have brought the UK to its knees. Instead we have allowed precious funds to be squandered on politician’s moats and parliamentary expenses, or BMW’s and iPhones for our Police Chiefs when a VW and a Sony Ericsson would do.

Sport is a great unifying medium for crossing divides, forgetting prejudice and building lasting relationships. It teaches us to perceiver, breeds a sense of fairness and instils in us a sense of achievement. There is nothing wrong with a desire to win, or a passion to be the best. These are the fundamental characteristics of a strong individual and are essential during our key developmental years. Sport gives us an ability to deal with adversity, communicate our frustrations and disappointments effectively, but possibly most importantly it breads a healthy nation both mentally and physically.

Speak to a large majority of British youth and they’ll tell you that long to be a celebrity. Nothing too unusual there, I think almost any child dreams of celebrity as they grow up, however I’m certain that you’ll find that the celebrity that a British youngster dreams of is that of the X Factor or some such similar TV program, where as you ask a typical South African youngster and they’ll tell you that they seek fame via a place playing for either the Springboks or Bafana Bafana.

Admittedly I accept that sport is not for everybody, but I believe that participation is just as important a developmental tool as giving non sporting options to children. The real world is not an easy place, and I cannot help but wonder if giving kids an opt out clause is not more detrimental in the long run?

Interesting questions when you stop to consider them. I don’t propose to have all the answers, and I am sure that I’ll get people suggesting that I haven’t considered all the facts. True, I am sure that there are factors to these questions that I haven’t considered, but as is always the case when I blog, I present my thoughts and then leave it open for other people to present their ideas, thoughts and arguments for consideration. So in the great scheme of things let me ask you this. Does the lack of a British Team participating on the international stage with consistently winning ways point to a larger problem in the development of the British youth, and if this is the case, what is the solution? Your thoughts and contribution is greatly appreciated.