Burdon: Forget the ref, let rugby public decide

NATHAN BURDON
Last updated 05:00 25/05/2013

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OPINION: Rugby's issues with the television match official (TMO) should be seen as an opportunity, not a problem.

As usual, technology and marketing - those two under-rated and unobtrusive aspects of our everyday lives - will come to our rescue.

They will come to the rescue of the TMO, that oft-criticised man alone, who is expected to provide an answer when no-one else can, and later exit the stadium with his eardrums pounding from the abuse of the ill-informed and the unwashed.

It may even rescue us from another lecture from the headmaster, so many years after we thought we had escaped high school, about how much better things are in the world according to Graham Henry, because it's time to ditch the TMO and replace him with . . . a public vote. We have the ability.

Every second hour, bedazzled 15-minute celebrities are voted off talent shows, cooking programmes and myriad other riveting forms of reality television at the whim of an empathetic and informed (ie, cynical and malicious) public viewership.

Surely it's only a matter of time before reality and sport, the two religions of the flatscreen, culminate as one.

Imagine this.

All Black wing Hosea Gear slams down the ball in the corner as he is knocked over the sidelines by the cover defence in the last minute of a test against the Springboks at Forsyth Barr Stadium.

Instead of two nations holding their breath in anticipation, they reach for their remotes and edge closer to their television as they study the replays.

The referee isn't sure. Instead of drawing a square with his fingers, he performs the new signal for the public vote, simultaneously raising his palms and shoulders. You might liken it to a shrug.

Thumbs hover over remote controls with the same pent-up tension of two front rows getting ready to engage.

Push the green button for a try, press the red button for no try.

Subscribers will be charged $1.99 and can vote only once. Those at the ground can vote via smartphone app, 99c per vote.

Their votes will be given a slightly greater weighting, because they have seen the action live and are therefore better placed to form an opinion, and have already paid too much for their seats.

Anxiously we wait for the verdict to come in.

The two graphical towers representing each option rise and fall, like civilisations on fast-forward, as the anticipation builds.

The result is confirmed - 80.13 per cent of those watching believe Gear grounded the ball before his foot touched the sideline, narrowly getting over the 80 per cent threshold.

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The vote is a populist victory.

Somewhere, MP Maurice Williamson is phoning his speech writer to see if she was watching the game.

Are we so arrogant to think that someone who once played half a game for the Beagleburg under-8s ("Chris Tregaskis' mum owned the bakery we got our halftime pies from") and has followed the game since before they had an insurance company on the front of the jersey, wouldn't know more than some knock-kneed whistleblower who probably started refereeing only because their application for that parking warden's job was turned down? No. No we aren't.

As a revenue earner, the public vote concept is a winner. It's too much to expect the cattle to stay in their paddocks any more. Let's give those cows some guns.

It will also guarantee that people are indeed watching because, if they aren't, they can be sure those cheating South Africans will rig it, robbing honest New Zealanders of the chance to rig it.

More people watching, more revenue coming in, no more need to cover the cost of a night's accommodation at Living Space and a feed at Maccas before the game for the TMO.

Like professionalism itself, everyone wins, except the game.

It's a necessary sacrifice.

- The Southland Times

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