September 21st, 2009
07:23 PM ET

Should referees be responsible for time-keeping?

As a neutral, I couldn't care less about Manchester United beating Manchester City with a goal in the 96th minute. Neither of them are my team and it was a great game - one of the best Manchester derbies I have ever seen.

Michael Owen's late winner has re-opened the debate on whether the referee should relinquish time-keeping duties.
Michael Owen's late winner has re-opened the debate on whether the referee should relinquish time-keeping duties.

I do however, believe it raises the question as to whether the referee and his match officials should be responsible for time-keeping in this day and age, when the rewards for victory are so high, and when teams are fit enough to battle right to the final whistle.

Remember, while stoppage time is viewed as time added-on, it's really no more than compensation for the time lost during the game. In other words, the aim is for each game to last exactly 90 minutes, no more no less.

The problem is that each official appears to have a different view of what constitutes time wasted. Time lost for treatment to injuries is obvious. (Though what constitutes an "injury" requiring the trainer in today's game would have been a rub and a shrug not so long ago.)

But minutes added on for other things like substitutions, goal celebrations, delayed free-kicks, and petty stuff like not tossing the ball to an opponent when it goes out of play, are all open to interpretation.

What's more, with the various other things the officials have to watch-out for in a high tempo game often played at the very limit of the rules, it must be really hard for them to stay abreast of something as basic, but fundamental as the time.

So, why not take out the guesswork by having an official time-keeper? What's more, have the official clock visible to the players, coaches, and fans so that everyone knows where they stand in terms of how much time is left.

The clock could even be stopped every time the whistle blew for an infringement, substitution, or whatever. I know the technology exists in the NBA whereby the reaction to the ref's whistle is almost immediate.

The beauty of the idea would be that as well as ensuring that games last the full 90 minutes, avoiding controversies like the one in Manchester, it could also cut-out some of the play-acting and gamesmanship, such as the 89th minute substitution or the phantom foul, that teams quite legimately use at the moment to waste time. There'd be nothing to gain.

The clock could even stop once a goal is scored, as the ball is dead anyway. That way even the most prolonged goal celebration would not cause a double whammy for the conceding team, which, at present, gives up a goal and some of the time left to respond.

I would also favor the game ending with an official buzzer instead of the ref's whistle. After all, how often have you seen the prescribed amount of stoppage time elapse only for the ref to add on a bit in order to let a particular move, such as a corner, play-out... When time's up time's up, and if you have a buzzer and a time-keeper that would be that.

Now I doubt there'll be much support amongst the football purists for this suggestion. Too progressive. Too impersonal. Too American - I can hear them all now.

But I'm pretty sure there's at least one person in the football fraternity who might be open to the idea, and his name is Mark Hughes - manager of Manchester City.

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Filed under:  Football
September 21st, 2009
06:17 PM ET

Renault escape punishment for race-fixing

So, Renault have successfully played their "Get Out of Jail Free" card, and essentially escaped punishment for colluding with Nelson Piquet Junior to deliberately crash his car during last year's Singapore Grand Prix.

Flavio Briatore has paid the ultimate price for the Renault race-fixing scandal.
Flavio Briatore has paid the ultimate price for the Renault race-fixing scandal.

Is anyone surprised that the FIA let them off with nothing more than a rap on the knuckles? Not me.

The sport's governing body is in a precarious position after this year's shenanigans with the Formula One Teams Association ( FOTA), who almost took their toys away and left them with no Formula One Championship to govern.

Little wonder then that Max Mosley and his buddies trod very carefully when it came to the issue of sanctions, lest they upset the golden geese.

Of course, some people will feel justice has been done, because former Renault team boss, Flavio Briatore, and the team's ex-engineering director, Pat Symonds, pulled a mea culpa and fell on their swords.

However, while I agree that the two main offenders suffered for their actions, it was only after initially denying the claims, and after admitting that their confessions were an attempt to gain leniency for their former employers.

I think they call that a plea bargain, don't they? And does anyone think a plea bargained sentence feels like justice?

Furthermore, I may be cynical, but it stretches the bounds of credibility to believe that Briatore and Symonds acted alone.

Judging by all the layers every other decision has to go through in Formula One, it just seems unlikely that the two men could have acted unilaterally without at least someone on the Renault team becoming aware. After all, there are few more collaborative team sports than Formula One.

And even if by some freak set of circumstances nobody knew about the plot besides Briatore and Symonds, what happened to the - no "I" in team mantra?

According to Max Mosley, Renault bore "no moral responsibility for what took place." But surely there was guilt by association?

I mean, when a bunch of hooligans cause trouble at a football match, the club is often sanctioned for failing to control its supporters even though the trouble-makers are not in their employ.

How much more responsibility should you bear then, if the guilty parties are your hires acting in the interests of your team?

Finally, what about the driver at the center of the case? Nelson Piquet Junior agreed to crash his car and had kept quiet about doing so until he was fired.

So while the FIA has lauded him for his co-operation, I can't see how that praise is warranted as his confession was self serving, designed purely to get back at the team that sacked him.

Of course, his punishment is that he may well have driven his last Formula One race, as who would want to employ someone with such questionable integrity?

Still, it would surely have been more appropriate to see him punished as a direct result of F1's justice system, not just as a by-product of it.

And so another sad and sordid chapter in the Formula One saga comes to an end in a somewhat unsatisfying manner.

Was justice done? Barely. Was the punishment prohibitive, making it too costly for others to take a similar gamble? No!...Do we have closure? Negative, because no-one involved with Briatore is allowed to be associated with Formula One, and he's the manager of Renault's Fernando Alonso and Red Bull's Mark Webber, and also has connections with McLaren's Heikki Kovalainen.

So there's another minefield waiting to be trodden. All in the all then, not a happy outcome for anyone but Renault, and a pretty miserable state of affairs at a time when we should be looking forward to the climax of the season.

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Filed under:  Motorsport