Rules of the game

23 Jul

One of the most significant achievements of nineteenth century Britain was to invent rules for various games. These games included Association Football, Rugby Union, Cricket, Rugby League and so on and on. This enabled different groups to play the same game to the same rules, making a level playing field, even if they came from different continents. Of course some games are more international than others. Association football, AKA football, soccer, the beautiful game, is a truly international sport, whereas Gridiron Football is only played at the top level within a single country. The Empire State is probably big and rich enough to allow this. Baseball as a sport falls somewhere between international and local as teams from Cuba and Japan have been known to compete with the US teams. Other examples of local rules are Gaelic and Aussie Rules Football. Incidentally, why is Gridiron called Football when only a nominated member of the team is allowed to kick the ball and why is a touchdown so called when the ball is not touched down? A try in Rugby is called that because by touching the ball down over the line you had the opportunity of a kick at the posts.

When it comes to international sport, diplomatic incidents have been caused by perceived failures to apply the rules evenly. The furore during the Bodyline series in Australia is still talked about today. This happened when the visiting English cricket team under the captaincy of Douglas Jardine adopted the novel tactic of trying to hit the Australian batsmen with a head height cricket ball travelling at ninety miles an hour. The Australians thought that it was just not cricket, and a deliberate attempt to intimidate and/or injure the opposition does sound like an underhand tactic, especially in the days when the only protection was a cricket box®.

Recently the British and Irish Lions Rugby Union team finished a successful tour of Australia. One major talking point in Britain and Ireland was the interpretation of the rules applied by a South African referee. Now Rugby is a bitch of a game to referee with multiple offences occurring at the same time during some passages of play. However the two most basic rules of rugby are these: 1. You can only tackle the person carrying the ball. 2. Once tackled the player carrying the ball has to release it IMMEDIATELY.

The stress on immediate is because the interpretation of that rule appears to have changed in the Southern Hemisphere (except for Argentina). In Australia, New Zealand and South Africa it appears that hanging onto the ball for several seconds after a tackle is quite acceptable. The Lions players who tried to take the ball from the tackled player were penalised FOR STOPPING THE RELEASE OF THE BALL. In this situation the referee should be asking who benefits from the action. You cannot play the game without having the ball. It is of no benefit for the tacklers to allow an isolated tackled opponent to hang grimly and illegally onto the ball, but it is a benefit to the team of the tackled man not to lose control of the ball. For an international game to have multiple refereeing interpretations is unacceptable. This needs to be addressed by the RFU* with some urgency.

® A sort of armoured codpiece designed as a box ‘to protect the family jewels’

*Rugby Football Union


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