The Malta Independent 26 May 2019, Sunday

Video killed the radio star – football next?

Charles Flores Tuesday, 3 July 2018, 08:25 Last update: about 12 months ago

If video really killed the radio star, video is now threatening to kill the game we all love. This far in the Russia World Cup finals, Video Assistant Referee (VAR) has shown it is merely a DIY hara-kiri tool kit that is not only slowing down football even more, but there is every likelihood it will also make a sorry parody of it.

The “video screen” gesture by players, team coaches and referees alike, has already become an amusing standard, with spectators and tele viewers bewildered by both the length of time taken to resort to the electronic option and, in several instances, the motley decisions that were based on it. What we have all feared would happen with too much electronics in an otherwise simple, elegant game, is now taking place in front of our very eyes – the dismantling of the beautiful game that has enthralled generations upon generations all over the world for almost a century and a half, including, today, in places one would never have imagined they would, like the United States, Canada and Australia where soccer crowds continue to grow to impressive proportions.

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The threat to the future of the game, however, is now palpable. Once you remove the human element from the proceedings on the field of play, you are bound to get a robotic spectacle of it all. When VAR was thought to have been the ideal solution to “solve” old football problems such as goal controversies, offside decisions and infringements of the rules, it has in actual fact amplified them. The VAR decisions in the Spain-Morocco and Iran-Portugal games, to mention just two of the rowdier World Cup 2018 clashes as an example, left most people perplexed, shocked and incredulous, wondering how much more this popular game can take before we all start switching to other sporting events that have managed to avoid the absurdities and complications that FIFA and its affiliates have burdened it with.

Add to all this fracas the melodramatic reactions of players, including the billionaire superstars, when they are on the losing side of a tackle. It only takes an opposing player to brush past them for them to drop to the ground writhing, screaming, punching the turf and soliciting an Oscar award for it all. Were rugby players to do the same, we would have an instant ensemble of Hollywood wannabes, but they do not, and rightly take everything pretty much in the spirit of the sport.

The same goes for goal celebrations. Is there no one at FIFA and UEFA who feels the time has come for the dancing, prancing and smooching to stop? In the past, footballers would merely exchange a quick handshake or a light pat on the back of the head with a colleague who has just scored and get on with the game. Referees did not have to physically separate players from loving embraces that lasted far too long or watch members of the team that has just scored present an impromptu dancing display that has more of the burlesque than sport. People who want to watch dancing queens can always go to gentlemen’s clubs.

The issue of discipline on the field has also become a red alert for those of us who have always loved the game. While it is acceptable for players to respectfully show their disagreement with a referee’s decision, the trend for an angry squad to surround the referee, push him, tap him strongly on the shoulders, scream at him and hound him into making unwarranted indecision is neither seen nor tolerated in other sports. If the ref fights back, he could easily run out of yellow and red cards for the game to become a farce.

Give us our game back. Not a technological exhibition, but a sport that inspires natural talent and offers true grit without losing either its natural elegance or popular appeal.

 

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The way ahead

Joseph Muscat’s handling of the Aquarius and Lifeline immigration standoff was pure statesmanship. Tiny Malta again showed it can punch well above its weight despite the insipid attitude of some in the new Italian administration who thought they could shout their long-time, friendly neighbour into submission.

Immigration does indeed threaten the very existence of the European Union, particularly at this moment in time when the continent is divided between the willing and the reluctant, between the progressive forces of Europe and the new, populist prima donnas whose jingoistic style of doing politics is, apparently, more important than saving human lives.

While I react in kind, however, our Prime Minister persists in sticking to his style of reaching out even to those who have resorted to a vocabulary unworthy of the votes they got from an electorate willing to trust them with some power sharing. And it has worked. The solution found to the Lifeline conundrum is, undoubtedly, only a small, temporary step towards a wider accord within the EU on the issue of mass immigration, but it certainly offers a saner approach to it and an opportunity to find a middle road, at least to those genuinely interested in finding it.

Malta has had the fortune of showing a united front on this occasion. Long may it last. Being small may be beautiful, but can also be easily overlooked as was obvious in the international media’s coverage of this most recent immigration crisis. What Malta said and did was fleetingly reported, but it certainly did not go unnoticed in top European circles, for it signalled the way ahead.

 

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Premium tax

I see that a cross-party group of MPs in the UK has called for the over-40s and rich pensioners to “pay extra” to help meet the cost of social care. Funny; I thought these are the very citizens who should be encouraged to enjoy, with their children and grandchildren, the fruit of their labour from many years of work and dedication.

At a time when Maltese old-timers are enjoying unprecedented benefits and opportunities, such as the highly successful 62+-investment scheme, in the old colonial “mother country”, they want to tax them more. Of course the word tax does not appear anywhere on their parliamentary document. Instead, they use the term “social care premium” aimed, according to these Honourable ladies and gentlemen, “at addressing the problem of an unsustainable system”.

Why is the unsustainable sustainable elsewhere, I wonder?

 

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