Sunday, October 14, 2007

Sport: tune in, get a result, switch off

...or why the result shouldn't be meddled with.

I watched Ben Johnson run 100m in 9.74 seconds or whatever it was. He did that and I saw it. He was presented with a gold medal - I saw that too. Then he was found guilty of taking a banned substance, stripped of the medal and the world record. This isn't about the moral maze of drug use in sport or fairness; this is about sport as a form of entertainment. I watched the race and the presentation and became emotionally involved in a moment in history. Changing the result is changing that history and asking me to erase that emotional impact from myself.

Here's another example I only just discovered: in 2003 there was a crazy Formula 1 race in Brazil. In the end the race was stopped as there were so many crashed cars around the circuit it resembled a scrapheap. The race victory was given (if memory serves) to a McLaren, which was sad as a Jordan (or some other no-hope team) had looked to be leading. I was disappointed at the time right up until I switched off and then I forgot all about it. Turns out, I just read today, 4 years later, that the result was overturned and the Jordan was given the victory a few days later.

In sports like F1 which are technologically bewilderingly complicated, there are so many things which can be discovered that have an impact on the result that there are very rarely any races at all that don't have some adjustment made to the order of start or finish. But it is still a form of entertainment when all is said and done by the army of people employed to say and do things.


My role as an armchair sport spectator would be enhanced by knowing the result I see at the end of the broadcast is the one which will stand. This must be even more so for someone who paid through the nose to go along to the race, fought their way through the crowds to watch the presentation ceremony and then had it all erased while they were back at work the next week.

This should be a cross-sport agreement between whatever bodies control these things. Every effort should be made to ensure fair play right up to the point where (and each sport decides what determines this final point) the proverbial fat lady sings. They could, of course, choose to delay the actual presentation but I have a feeling that the TV companies' muscle will prevent this from happening too much.

Presumably there must be a limit even now: I assume nobody is going to strip England of their 1966 World Cup medals because the ball wasn't over the line on one of their goals. All I am saying is that it should be brought within a reasonable time for viewing the event.

There will always be cheaters in sport; some that get caught and some that get away with it. There will be dubious decisions, wrong results and complaints. But this is not like the US Presidential election; if you keep deciding results in courts rather than on the pitch/track/field etc. there won't be any winners, just losers and lots of people reaching for remote controls to turn over.



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