Seeing Red

During the recent Rugby World Cup semi-final between Wales and France the Welsh captain and one of the players of the tournament so far, Sam Warburton, was given a red card for a dangerous tackle on French winger Vincent Clerc. Now that some time has passed, Wales have played and lost the 3rd place playoff match, the media circus surrounding the decision and its consequences has died down somewhat.

Webb Ellis Cup

Did Sam Warburton's actions cost his country a shot at the Webb Ellis Cup? Photo: americanistadechiapas

*Disclaimer: I am not, and have never claimed to be, an expert on the intricacies of rugby. I have never really played the game other than during PE lessons at school as I am neither big enough to be a forward, fast enough to be a winger or brave enough to tackle someone running straight at me. I do however enjoy watching the game and have a basic grasp of the laws. I also have no anti-Welsh agenda, like most frustrated England fans I wanted Wales to beat France and win the subsequent final.*

First of all let’s get the series of events that led to Warburton’s dismissal noted as I see them:

1. Sam Warburton tackled Vincent Clerc and lifted the Frenchman off his feet.

2. Warburton proceeded to tip Clerc so that his feet were above his head.

3. The Welsh captain began to move Clerc downwards and then dropped him to the floor.

4. Clerc landed on his shoulders and his head slapped against the turf with his feet still in the air.

The immediate reaction to the tackle angered me and I will now attempt to explain why:

As I have already mentioned I am no expert on the laws of rugby but I am familiar enough with the principal that if you lift someone whilst tackling them it is your responsibility to put them down safely. I have also read enough about dangerous tackles in the aftermath of the spear tackle that prematurely ended Brian O’Driscoll’s Lions tour in 2005, to know that any tackle in which the feet of the tackled player are brought above their head can be interpreted as dangerous. As a result it was immediately evident upon seeing Warburton’s tackle that he could be in trouble with the referee.

In the aftermath of the decision to send him off and in order to clarify the situation, the following passages of the laws of rugby union have been widely circulated:

Law 10.4 “Lifting a player from the ground and dropping or driving that player into the ground whilst that player’s feet are still off the ground such that the player’s head and/or upper body come into contact with the ground is dangerous play.”

“Referees…should not make their decisions based on what they consider was the intention of the offending player. Their decision should be based on an objective assessment (as per Law 10.4) of the circumstances of the tackle.”

A memo sent by Paddy O’Brien of the International Rugby Board (IRB) in 2009 stated, with regards to the type of tackle described in Law 10.4:

“For these types of tackles they [referees] were to start at red card as a sanction and work backwards. Unfortunately these types of tackles are still being made and the purpose of this memorandum is to emphasise that they must be dealt with severely by referees.”

Vincent Clerc playing for Toulouse

Vincent Clerc is the innocent party in all of the discussions. Photo: Gil Calmon

So according to the laws of the game the referee was well within his rights to send Warburton off and that should have been the end of the matter. However for a number of reasons it was not and it inevitably became the major talking point of the game (admittedly by writing this blog I am provoking further debate so I am just as guilty as anyone else for not letting the issue rest).

The first thing that struck me upon watching these events unfold on ITV was the words of the co-commentator, former Welsh captain Michael Owen.

Before seeing a replay of the tackle he said:

“I don’t think there was anything malicious in that there, Sam Warburton just got a great hit on. I think he just slipped up over the top, there’s not much you can do when you make a tackle as sweet as that.”

There may not have been any malicious intent in the tackle, and my opinion is also that there was no intent to harm, but as I have shown above the intent of the tackling player should not be considered – only an objective assessment of the tackle. He also did not “just slip over the top”, this wasn’t a borderline high-tackle that went awry, Warburton deliberately tipped Clerc. However I will give Owen the benefit of the doubt as he had yet to see a replay.

Having seen a replay:

“He takes Clerc man and ball, it’s just one of those things, it’s a good tackle and unfortunately his legs have gone above his shoulders.”

No I’m afraid I can’t agree with you there Michael, it’s not just one of those things and it wasn’t unfortunate that his legs went that high. It was the deliberate action of the Welsh captain that resulted in Clerc being up-ended. I don’t believe that anyone playing international rugby would not know the rules regarding spear/tip tackles, therefore it is a bad tackle and a bad decision.

Upon seeing Warburton at the side of the pitch and assuming he had been yellow carded:

“I think that’s very very harsh to get a yellow card for that [before knowing it’s a red], you’re playing rugby, it’s a very ferocious game – it’s very hard to bring someone down with care.”

I agree that it is hard to bring someone down safely, but if you make the decision to lift them then it is your responsibility to do so, if you don’t lift the player you don’t have to worry about how you put them down. Also suggesting that a tackle such as this should go unpunished is irresponsible, tip/spear tackles have been outlawed and deemed dangerous because that’s exactly what they are. I accept that rugby is an inherently dangerous game, however these types of tackles are unnecessary and come with a high risk of serious injury.

After learning that the card was actually red:

“I think he’s got that completely wrong there, I don’t think it should’ve been a sin-bin, I think a penalty maybe, he’s got that completely wrong.”

Once again he suggests that a penalty would be sufficient punishment which I cannot agree with. The second issue of whether it should have been a red card is up for debate, opinions from current and past players suggests that a yellow card would have been more reasonable.

Adam Jones at the 2007 World Cup

Adam Jones was forced to leave the game early through injury. Photo: Manuel MC

From an outsiders perspective I am completely comfortable with the red card punishment for what was an unnecessarily dangerous tackle. However were a yellow card to have been awarded I don’t think I would have questioned the decision as Warburton did not ‘spear’ Clerc into the ground.

My main issue with the outcry about the decision, and how it ruined the game and Wales’ prospects of making a World Cup final, was the instant condemnation of the referee when the evidence proves that Alain Rolland was within his rights to send Warburton off.

I have seen little analysis that condemns Warburton for a rush of blood that potentially cost Wales a place in their first ever World Cup final. If he had not made what I will again call an unnecessarilly dangerous tackle his team may be preparing for the biggest game of their lives on Sunday instead of flying home without even so much as a bronze medal in their pockets.

We can’t even honestly say that his actions lost Wales the game either as the loss of Adam Jones early in the game and numerous missed kicks at goal can equally be blamed for Wales’ demise.

I only hope that sportsmen and women will learn from this lesson, if you don’t give the referee/umpire a decision to make then you won’t be complaining afterwards. Responsibility falls to the coaches and players themselves to behave and tackle in a fair manner at all times or face the consequences.

Parallels can be drawn with Wayne Rooney’s three match suspension from competitive England internationals following his petulant kick in the recent game against Montenegro. Complaints (though admittedly few) have been aimed at UEFA for inflicting the full three game suspension when it could have only been one, but if Rooney hadn’t lashed out in the first place then UEFA wouldn’t have had a decision to make.

Referees and umpires are not perfect, they make mistakes, but so do sportspeople and we can’t complain when the laws of the game are upheld, especially to punish dangerous behaviour such as that exhibited by Sam Warburton.

Photos: Webb Ellis Cup – americanistadechiapas, Vincent Clerc – Gil Calmon, Adam Jones – Manuel MC

To tweet or not to tweet?

Twitter may only be five years old but it has already made enough headlines to last a lifetime. It has quickly become the go to place for breaking news and to gauge the subjects on the nation’s fingertips.

The social networking site has many uses in the sporting world; athletes use it as a tool to converse directly with fans, clubs use it as another way to inform and update their loyal supporters, journalists use it as a medium to rapidly break news and event organisers use it as an extra means of publicity. It isn’t always a tool for good though, an errant tweet can land the user in plenty of hot water – as the saying goes, ‘act in haste, repent in leisure’.

Twitter Over Capacity

Twitter use has grown rapidly and it often faced server problems as they struggled to cope. Photo: Sandip Bhattacharya

The site’s growth in the past few years has been mirrored within the sporting world. As more and more people sign-up it is inevitable that some will fall foul of the tool’s immediacy and lack of recourse. Once a message has been tweeted it is there for the world to see, you may try to delete it but you won’t catch it in time and if it is newsworthy then someone will retweet it and the situation will snowball. Kevin Pietersen is a prime example of this, in 2010 he inadvertently revealed the England selectors’ decision to drop him hours before it was set to be officially announced. He didn’t stop there though, he further angered the selectors by launching into a four letter tirade about them and the merit of their decision. Pietersen insists that the tweet was intended as a direct message to a specific user and therefore not to be seen by the rest of his followers. This may be the case but it is somewhat irrelevant after the event, it was a stark lesson to sports stars the world over that life on the internet can never be truly private.

This wasn’t the first time a team selection had been let out of the bag early on twitter though. The first time I can recall it happening was before the second test of the 2009 Ashes series. Out of form opening bastman Phillip Hughes revealed on his twitter account that he had been dropped, two hours before the official announcement was made prior to the toss. Reports suggested that his manager took responsibility for the slip-up, he was still in Australia and claimed to have mis-calculated the time difference and tweeted the message too early. That is little consolation to Cricket Australia though who were seen to have lost an element of control over their playing staff, this was before the true power and independent nature of twitter had been discovered though it must be said.

Pointless Twitter

Many people, Sir Alex Ferguson included, fail to see to point of Twitter.

Nothing can truly claim to be a part of British sport until it has infiltrated the world of football, and nothing can truly be a part of football until there has been a scandal about it. So as the headlines over the last year can testify, twitter has definitely arrived. Darren Bent, Carlton Cole, Danny Gabbidon, Ryan Babel, and Wayne Rooney have all made the news as a result of ill-advised tweets. Offences ranged from retweeting a lighthearted photoshopped image (Babel), to a rage-fuelled sign-off from the site (Gabbidon), to offering a follower out for a fight (yep you guessed it, Rooney). One of twitter’s greatest selling points has proven time and again to be many of its users downfalls. The medium is so immediate, so direct, and the lack of censorship acts as a perfect illustration of why agents and managers started giving athletes media training in the first place.

I shouldn’t just focus on the pitfalls of twitter though. Sportsmen and women have used it as a force for good and this should be noted. Yes there are many sportspeople who have got into trouble because of their tweets but there are far more who use it as a tool to reconnect with their fans and become human again. Not just in this country but around the world as well, we revere our sports stars and put them on a pedestal that is impossible for us to ever reach. Managers and agents then build a wall around that pedestal to further distance us from our heroes, only allowing us to hear from them in sanctioned press conferences and interviews where they give calculated answers to keep their sponsors happy and their noses clean. If twitter can humanise our sports stars then its use should be encouraged.

A recent example of this is Judd Trump, the 21 year old snooker player who made a name for himself by tweeting in the mid-session intervals during his run to the final of this years world championships. Mid-game tweets are not always desirable though, the NBA have banned its players from using twitter and other social media sites from 45 minutes before the game until after all official post-match press obligations have been completed. This is likely to be due to the loss of impact that its own coverage will attain if news and opinions have already been broken by players on their personal twitter feeds.

The majority of the England cricket team are regular tweeters and used it as a tool to keep in touch with supporters on their recent tour of Australia and the Asian sub-continent. The camaraderie between the group is clear to see as they regularly engaged in gentle ribbing and mocking of one another in their spare time, a tactic which ingratiated themselves to their fans as it shows they don’t take themselves too seriously.

Twitter on mobile phone

The rise of smartphones has made tweeting on the move more accessible. Photo: stevegarfield

Twitter can be a fantastic way to connect with fans and display your personality away from the sporting environment in which athletes are normally seen. Graeme Swann is a prime example of this, a sample tweet from his timeline will see that he is just a normal person like you and I, with a good sense of humour: “I saw on the news that today is supposed to be judgement day? Do I have time for a cheese n pickle sandwich before the machines rise?”. There are others as well, many believe that Mark Cavendish, the bolshy yet prodigiously talented cyclist, is made for twitter. His  sponsors may disagree as he has hardly cultivated a squeaky clean reputation in his short professional career so far, but twitter gives him an uncensored voice to air his views and convince some people that there is more to him than the arrogant, surly character people perceive. A recent tweet of his shows his dedication to his team and his gratitude for the efforts they make for his ultimate glory: “Haters will hate. But a group of people who support me like my incredible teammates did today will always mean more. So proud of you guys.”

Of course for twitter to work you need to have the personality to show off in the first place. Andy Murray is persistently labelled as boring and monotonous, I personally don’t think this should matter too much but it has to be said that he doesn’t help himself. His description of himself on twitter simply reads “I play tennis”. However dig a little deeper and you will see a sense of humour in there that many people miss. This was tweeted on 1st April: “Ross hutchins (doubles player and training partner) will be my new coach alongside dani starting in barcelona! Can’t wait to get startedd, full statement on personal website”, followed by “Felt like I needed another yes man”. All of which was a thinly veiled jab at the critics questioning his decision to surround himself with a team of friends rather than a single coach who would question the Scots views.

All of this pales into insignificance when viewed against the impact twitter can really make on a global scale though. As a tool for breaking news it is now unsurpassed, the first I heard about Wouter Weylandt’s recent death in the Giro d’Italia was via twitter. Of course some tweets must be read with caution, due to the speed with which news is now disseminated there are bound to be some errors, but on the whole you get enough of the story to go on before you can read a full report.

Not only can twitter break news, but it can also break governments as well, as the recent uprising in Tunisia demonstrated.

So twitter really is a powerful tool, one that the world is only just discovering the full potential of. Sports stars were some of the first to realise its strengths, and some of the first to experience its pitfalls. With the world-changing around us at such a pace it is impossible to say with much certainty whether twitter is here to stay, but you can rest assured that it hasn’t finished writing its headlines yet (just ask Ryan Giggs!). Be those headlines good or bad is up to the user, just remember one thing for the future – tweet if you want to, but tweet with caution.

Photo credits: Twitter over capacity – Sandip Bhattacharya, Pointless little messages – jmilles, Mobile twitter stevegarfield

R. E. S. P. E. C. T.

The charges have been made, the appeal heard and the a title=Wayne Rooney banned for Man Utds FA Cup semi-final href=http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/12995661.stm target=_blanksentence handed down/a; Wayne Rooney will be missing for Manchester Uniteds FA Cup semi final against a title=Sir Alex Ferguson stokes up hostilities with Manchester City after derby victory href=http://http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/sport/football/article6841960.ece target=_blanknoisy neighbours/a City this weekend at Wembley. But did he deserve his two match ban? Was his offence really that bad? And perhaps most importantly, why on earth did he do it in the first place?

a href=http://farm6.static.flickr.com/5207/5284558112_e255f227fe_z.jpgimg class=size-full wp-image-41 title=Glasgow Rangers FC v Manchester United – UEFA Champions League src=https://thebigblogofsport.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/wayne3.jpg alt=Rooney reacts to scoring against Rangers in the Champions League width=510 height=286 //a

Controlled

Wayne Rooney is currently the most famous exponent of the four letter rant in English football, however he is by no means alone in his love of the profane. It would now come as a shock to watch a Premier League game without someone being caught swearing on camera at some point. Rooney is a serial offender though, add to this his high-profile and the timing of the event (coming just days after the a title=Premier League to curb player behaviour – Scudamore href=http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/9442760.stm target=_blankFAs latest push for respect/a in the game), and it should come as no surprise that those in charge have chosen to make an example of Rooney.

Was his crime really deserving of a two match ban though? Especially considering the lack of action taken by the FA for the inexcusable elbow he dished out to Wigans James McCarthy in February of this year. That offence apparently warranted no punishment on the pitch and even having reviewed the damning video evidence after the event, the FA still chose to take no action.

So it seems repeatedly swearing into a television camera is worse than assaulting a player, at least that is what the decision makers think and theyre the only opinions that really count. In my opinion a two match ban seems appropriate for such a crime, however the problem comes when you compare it to other offences of a similar nature and the punishment they received.

The FA have made an example of Wayne Rooney, but with no precedent for their decision. Were there a set of rules in place to deal with foul and abusive language and its use on the field of play (or at least a set that are enforced) then perhaps this incident wouldnt have received the coverage it has.

If the sports governing body really are serious about achieving respect for their match officials then perhaps they should behave like a body that deserves it. Instead of promotional videos with Ray Winstone, advertising boards around the edge of the Wembley pitch and a little patch on a players sleeve, how about punishments for every swear word aimed at anyone other than themselves. A yellow card for a first offence, red card for second and match bans for anything after? The rule makers may say there are already rules in place to cover such offences, in which case they should be enforced.

Players need to realise that they cant turn the air blue whenever they feel like it and get away with it, if referees had this kind of power then they may just be respected that little bit more. Like it or not footballers are role models, so they need to learn to behave like it – if suspensions mean they miss important games, lose endorsement deals and are hit with significant fines then they may just sit up and pay attention.

Perhaps the more important question to ask with regards to this and countless other situations in which tempers boil over is why it happens in the first place? Why do players feel the need to swear into a camera, butt heads because someone may have mis-timed a tackle or join in a mass brawl, all started because someone wouldnt give the ball back quickly enough?

The slew of official player apologies that get trotted out to the press after a game will more than likely feature one of more of the following phrases: heat of the moment, not intentional, never meant to cause any offence, pressure can do funny things etc.

I fail to see how scoring a hat-trick to take the lead in a vital game could lead to swearing directly into a television camera. Surely this would be a joyous occasion, one to revel in with your teammates and supporters?

If a teammate of mine were getting involved in a fracas with an opposition player, I dont see the reason for two whole teams to then get involved and risk further punishment. If I were to ring a title=BBC – 606 href=http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0070hz6 target=_blank606 on 5Live/a with this opinion I would no doubt be told by Robbie Savage that you cant understand the pressures players are under until youve played at that level. I would agree with him up to a point, he is correct in saying that professional footballers are under far more pressure to perform than the average amateur sportsperson could ever imagine. However were he then to go on and say that it is just passion boiling over, this is where I would draw the line. Passion is a word used to excuse all sorts of despicable behaviour in sport, I refuse to agree that amateur sportspeople dont play with the same passion and desire to win that the pros do.

a href=http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2430/3598523111_12eb2a781b_m.jpgimg class=size-full wp-image-42 title=Roger src=https://thebigblogofsport.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/roger1.jpg alt=Roger Federer celebrates winning at the French Open width=170 height=240 //a

Federers

Of course foul language and bad behaviour is not reserved for professional sport, neither is it the sole preserve of a football pitch; John McEnroe, Serena Williams, Mike Tyson, Tiger Woods, the list could go on. So is it really passion boiling over or is that just an excuse for a lack of emotional, and sometimes physical, control? I would lean towards the latter and suggest that the old myth of if you take it out of their game youll lose something is a load of rubbish.

Roger Federer is a prime example of what someone can achieve when they a title=Roger Federer’s quest for tennis perfection href=http://www.sportingo.com/tennis/a4495_roger-federers-quest-tennis-perfection target=_blanklearn to control their emotions/a and focus that energy into something positive. As a teenager he was renowned for his emotional outbursts and racket smashing antics, but as soon as he learned to keep his emotions in check, he transformed into the serene genius that dominated mens tennis for so long.

So the benefits of keeping calm and respecting those around you are clear, you dont run the risk of suspensions, fines and tarnishing your reputation – and it may lead to an upturn in performance. It is evident that some find it easier to control their emotions than others, but even losing your cool is no excuse for violent outbursts, be they physical or verbal. How is it possible then for officials to obtain the respect they crave? If the athletes cannot learn to control themselves then at least consistent punishment might eventually push the message home.

Photos courtesy of stronga title=americanistadechiapas photostream href=http://www.flickr.com/photos/americanistadechiapas/ target=_blankamericanistadechiapas/a /strong(Wayne), and stronga title=Perunotas TVs Photostream href=http://www.flickr.com/photos/39203725@N08/with/3631936864/ target=_blankPerunotas TV/a /strong(Roger).