Why is Wayne Barnes allowed to referee rugby games?

During the last World Cup rugby tournament in France, Englishman Wayne Barnes ensured that tournament favourites New Zealand would be thrown out at the quarter-final stage by allowing a French try that was scored off a blatant forward pass.

And this wasn’t one of those line-ball decisions – there was a difference of about two metres between the two French players who exchanged the pass.

Now Barnes has done it again, denying Wales a chance of defeating the reigning champions, South Africa, at the 2011 championships.
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Australia’s tactics for World Cup rugby fraught with danger

AUSTRALIA enters next month’s World Cup rugby union tournament as one of the teams in with a chance — at least, based on the personnel and the strengths of the other teams involved.

But the Australian coach, New Zealander Robbie Deans, is resorting to a gameplan that has been tried before — when he was the understudy to John Mitchell, the coach for the All Blacks at the 2003 Cup. And Mitchell’s tactics failed that time.

In 2003, the Auckland Blues won the super rugby title. Mitchell based his national team for the cup on four players from the Blues – mercurial stand-off Carlos Spencer, wingers Doug Howlett and Josevata Rokocoko, and full-back Malili Muliaina.
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History tells us: the ICC must take the blame for match-fixing

IT WOULD be amusing to read all about the apportioning of blame by various people in the wake of the recent revelations about match-fixing, were it not for the fact that the whole thing is so damn serious. But then one should not be surprised about all the breast-beating that is going on – it is common for people to concentrate on the effects and forget the cause.

It does not take much effort to go back to the event that provided the seed for the growth of match-fixing in cricket. Remember, one is not talking about betting on cricket, that has been around for as long as the game has been played.

In 1980 the first international one-day cricket match was held in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. This was sanctioned by the International Cricket Council and it marked the start of trouble. The matches in Sharjah increased in number and India’s win in the 1983 World Cup gave the tournaments held in the desert emirate a fillip.

For one, the Sharjah tournaments were built on one factor – the enmity between India and Pakistan. There was always a third team invited (or even a fourth) to make up the numbers, but given the large numbers of Indian and Pakistani expatriates in the UAE, they were the focus.

Additionally, the Sharjah cricket organisers opened the doors to illegal betting of huge amounts by people of dubious reputations. Apart from the cricket, celebrities from both India and Pakistan were invited to attend. The UAE is a peculiar place – you can walk in to the country with a million dollars in a suitcase and no questions are asked but if you carry a Bible in, you may be questioned for an hour or more. Before oil came into the picture, Dubai was better known as the source of gold smuggling into India.

Both India and Pakistan have massive amounts of black money in their respective economies and lots of this money was used to wager large amounts in Sharjah. A great many dubious people offered awards in Sharjah to buy popularity and these were accepted without any hesitation – Pakistan batsman Javed Miandad earned more than a million dollars in 1986 when he hit a six off the last ball of a game to defeat India and win a tournament for Pakistan.

The UAE is known to harbour a number of people who are wanted in other parts of the world, people like the smuggler Dawood Ibrahim, who fled India in 1993 after he was being sought by police as a suspect in the bombing of the Bombay stock exchange that same year.

It is inconceivable that the ICC was unaware of all the goings-on but it chose to turn a blind eye. Cricketers were benefitting financially – the Sharjah organisers used to present three cricketers with money at every tournament – and the ICC was being paid the fees it sought. What’s more, any ICC bigwig who visited during the tournament was treated like God.

But the tournaments provided the means for illegal bookies and people of their ilk to gain access to players – one merely had to host a reception in Dubai for the cricketers (no liquor is served in hotels in Sharjah, hence the choice of Dubai which is just a 20-minute drive from Sharjah) during the tournament and one could pal up with the best players from India and Pakistan.

The money attracted other teams too and as the years went on the organisers scored their biggest coup by signing the West Indies, at that time the hottest property in world cricket. Australia, England, New Zealand, South Africa, Sri Lanka all came and played and were feted and wined and dined. Nobody raised any question as to why cricket in the desert was needed. It was something like the Packer days again, only this time the ICC gave the whole shindig its blessing.

Prior to Sharjah, there was hardly any talk of throwing a game of cricket. It took a few years for the bookies to develop their contacts to the point where they could make demands. Sharjah began hosting two tournaments a year soon after it started operations and this provided a fast track for unsavoury activities to grow.

in the 1990s , there was more and more talk about matches being influenced by factors other than the players’ ability. On the Indian tour of the West Indies in 1997, one Test, when India fell for 81 when chasing a little over 100 for victory, was a game that came in for some examination. An Indian writer, R. Mohan of the well-known Indian paper, The Hindu, lost his job after his betting activities came to light. And by the turn of the century, a few cricketers had been found out and banned from the game.

It is easy to gain access to junior players once one knows the seniors. And mind you, the seniors need not be in the pay of bookies, but merely acquainted enough to be persuaded to introduce others to the men who pay cricketers to fix games. After all, if you were told that Al Capone wanted to meet you during the heyday of that gentleman’s existence, would you have turned it down?

The ICC never objected to cricket being played in Sharjah. The only reason why the tournaments are no longer being held there is because there is no space on the international calendar after the future tours programme was put into practice. The ICC has even shifted its own headquarters to Dubai – simply because it benefits from the no-tax regime in the UAE and also gets free flights from Emirates airline – which is owned by the ruling family of Dubai – for its officials. When an international body has sold itself out in this manner, can it ever hope to call attention to the wrong-doings of its players?

Howard has been rejected, not Australia

WENDING his sorry way back from Singapore, after having been roundly snubbed by the International Cricket Conference after his bid to become the vice-president was rejected, former Australian prime minister John Howard is now trying to paint his rejection as a snub for Australia and New Zealand.

There is a one-word answer to this claim: bullshit.

It was the Australasian region’s chance to nominate a candidate and it was time for New Zealand to have a chance considering that, in the past, on both occasions when it was the region’s chance, an Australian took up the job – first Malcolm Gray and then Malcolm Speed. New Zealand had an excellent candidate, Sir John Anderson, a man who has worked with the ICC and shown remarkable aptitude as an administrator.

Howard claims that the cricket board of Australia approached him. This seems highly unlikely. What seems more likely is that Howard pulled a few strings in order to get his name put forward. He is a person who never wanted to leave public life; indeed, well before the 2007 elections, there were more than enough indications that if Howard continued to lead the coalition, it would meet with electoral disaster.

But Howard did not care; he hung on and suffered the ultimate ignominy. A sitting prime minister, he lost his seat to a political novice, former ABC newsperson Maxine McKew. If he had not been defeated, he would no doubt have hung on as an MP – the fact is he has no other skill other than being a politician. He has no administrative skills, no inter-personal skills, he can only manipulate public sentiment based on the lowest common denominator. And he has the imagination of a dry cucumber.

If any person other than Howard had been put forward as the nomination for ICC vice-president, there would have been no issue. But consider:

  • Howard did not support sporting sanctions against apartheid South Africa but was willing to back sanctions against Zimbabwe, leading to the obvious conclusion that it did not bother him when discrimination against blacks was being practised;
  • he used the military to board a ship full of asylum-seekers – Afghans and Iraqis – which was moving into Australian waters
  • he made no secret of the fact that reconciliation with Aborigines was not a priority of his, despite the fact that Australia has given its first people the raw end of the stick;
  • he has been known as someone who discriminates against people of colour
  • he never did a thing when Pauline Hanson was spreading the message of xenophobia across the country;
  • he was a staunch supporter of the illegal invasion of Iraq by the US in 2003, a gross injustice against a Muslim country;
  • he has been the greatest fan of shock-jock Alan Jones who, on more than one occasion, has been guilty of backing racist thugs. most notably those who were responsible for the riots in Cronulla.

These are just a few of the things which make it clear that Howard has a distinct problem dealing with people of colour. He would have been a disaster dealing with an organisation where the majority of the members are non-white – and the ICC is just that.

If Mark Taylor had been nominated would he have been rejected? Allan Border? Steve Waugh? Bill Lawry? Ian Chappell? Dennis Lillee? Jack Clarke, the current president of Cricket Australia? Damien Fleming? Paul Reiffel? Was Malcolm Speed or Malcolme Gray rejected? Howard is the problem, not any competent Australian.

Howard can continue to make brave noises about not withdrawing his nomination. In truth, he has nothing to do with it; only the boards of Australia and New Zealand can advance or withdraw it. By wheedling his way into contention, he has put the two boards in an awkward position.

Given that India is among the countries that has given Howard the thumbs-down, there is little chance that he will succeed in becoming the ICC vice-president. Had India not objected, Howard would have been accepted. But given all the reasons above, it is no wonder that Asian and African nations feel uneasy about accepting him as the chief of world cricket.

When it comes to cringe, Australia and New Zealand are much the same

YOU don’t need to spend a great deal of time in New Zealand to see that it’s very different from Australia. Having lived in the latter country for nearly 13 years, I was able to easily spot some aspects of life in which our Kiwi neighbours differ.

Environmental awareness is the big one. Australia seems to be on one long binge to nowhere, much like the Americans. Accumulating things seems to be the main game in life, wherease across the Tasman, people are concerned about recycling, greening the place and reusing things to avoid wastage.

There is a much more practical approach to common things – one which was easily noticeable was the way the Kiwis do not wait endlessly for a green light to cross the road. If there is no traffic in sight, people cross even though the light is red and go about their business. Australians are more prone to wait for the light to change, much like the Americans do.

The New Zealand attitude appears to be that the law can sometimes be an ass and that one does not need to obey it when it is. I never saw an accident happen because of it.

The drivers in Wellington do not display half the aggression that Australians do; they are perfectly willing to share the roads with pedestrians and smaller vehicles and are not waiting to charge off the moment the traffic lights turn green. Not that this means they are a bunch of dawdlers; there is a relaxed attitude about people on the road that is not observable in Australia.

The natives are much more visible in New Zealand than in Australia. It is rare to see an Aboriginal face in the city of Melbourne but in Wellington, you can see plenty of Maori and other islander faces. The country appears to respect the fact that the original inhabitants of the two islands (North and South) were willing to strike a deal to share their land with others, and they are given their rightful place in society.

Some attribute this to the fact that the Maori were a fighting race; Australia’s Aborigines do not have the same pushiness. Whatever the reason, this is one aspect of New Zealand that appeals to anyone who has a sense of fairness.

But when it comes to cringe, New Zealand is on par with Australia. One of the things that brings home the inferiority complex that Australia has vis-a-vis America is the presence of silly people like Jim Courier as commentators at one of the major international events that the country hosts – the Australian Open tennis tournament.

And this, when Australia has an excellent tennis pedigree and boasts some of the true greats of the game.

In New Zealand, this cringe can be seen in their own parliament. I was taken aback when an American conducted a tour of parliament which is offered many times a day during the off-season. If the man, Bill Wieben, had done a professional job, one would probably have written it off as an aberration.

But he was the typical American public official – patronising, making poor jokes and acting quite the buffoon in a setting where a serious, informative talk would have served the cause of the country and the visitors much better.

Why does New Zealand have an American conducting these tours? In truth, it spoiled the entire trip for me. There is nothing more representative of a nation than its own parliament – and New Zealand has some proud achievements on this front, one of them being that it was the first country to give women the vote.

I’d love to hear a Kiwi accent there the next time I visit.

Golf and the fine art of wasting time

THERE’S an old saying that runs thus: old golfers never die, they only lose their balls. Speaking as one who had his first walk around a golf course, I must say that balls are not the only thing that golfers seem to lose.

Golfers lose count of time – they are obsessed with getting a shot right and can walk around for a while before they get down to the business of driving the ball down the fairway. They also get obsessed with the game to the extent that it becomes some kind of life analogy. They talk about strategy, execution, and planning as though golf were akin to the battle of Hastings. In short, there is a certain loss of a sense of perspective.

The only pressure on a golfer to play and move on is the person(s) behind; on a club course, it is considered good etiquette to be one stroke behind. Else. others get held up and on a busy day this can be quite annoying.

I took a walk around the course at the Judgeford Golf Club in Wellington recently during a trip I made to attend a technical conference. Were it not for the fact that the journey around the course was taken in the company of a close friend, it would probably not have been made. But then one can’t turn down a close mate.

My mate plays golf regularly and, in fact, is quite obsessed with the game. He talks about it constantly, likening it to many other things in life, and treating it with much dignity. Out on the course one can see why he and countless others are so much in love with this game: they address the ball as though it were a loved one, they exult over a good drive, they lament a chipped one.

There are some good points about golf from the point of view of one who is unlikely to ever play a round. The walk, about six kilometres in all, is excellent exercise and given that a fair number of middle-aged people work in jobs that call for sitting on one’s backside for eight hours a day, this is a very definite plus.

The course that I walked around is scenic and beautiful, like most of New Zealand. At 9am, it is quiet enough to aid a stream of thought and even though a motorway runs through the course – one crosses by means of an underpass as some part of the course is on either side of the motorway – the noise is not much of a disturbance.

This again was a plus for me – in this busy world of ours, we rarely take a moment to stop and smell the roses. One never hears the birds, one never feels fresh wind on one’s face. Out on the course, there is time aplenty to experience all this and more.

Golf is a game meant for males to network. If women are on the course, it is just an accident. The men play their round, the one who wins feels a mite superior, they all share a drink after the round is over, and a good deal of business takes place around the game. It is not a game for those who are in straitened circumstances – a set of clubs costs something in the region of a few thousand dollars and club membership is close to a thousand.

One needs to have a good amount of time to play regularly as a round can take anything from three hours to eight, depending on how many people are playing and the skill level of the golfers. Par for the course is 72 strokes but most of the golfers I saw in action on the day I went around would not have got through in anything less than 100. A few may have come in in the 90s.

Golfers, thus, form a very exclusive club. They are mostly rich or middle-class males, who have reached middle-age and have grown-up children. Even so, their wives do not take kindly to the idea of a man using a piece of metal to swing wildly at a small round white object – no woman I have seen is actually happy that her partner is spending the better part of a day at the course.