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The Magnificent Seven: Dodgy Decisions

Who’s the b****** in the black, asks Niall Kelly in the first of his new, weekly features. What has he missed?

WITH ALL THE recent talk of harsh treatment of referees and the threat of a referees’ strike in the SPL this weekend, TheScore looks back at some less-than-stellar performances from the men in the middle.

1. Roy Jones Jr.’s Stolen Olympic Gold (Roy Jones Jr. vs. Park Si-Hun, 1988 Olympic Games)

For a competition based on the ideal that participation is more important than victory, the Olympic Games have seen their fair share of controversial refereeing.

Although the United States still reflect bitterly on the timekeeping decisions which allowed Russia to snatch victory in the final three seconds of the 1972 Men’s Basketball final, the defeat of boxer Roy Jones Jr. at the 1988 games was every bit as unjust.

Jones strolled into the light-middleweight final in Seoul without losing a single round before proceeding to beat his Korean opponent quite handily in the gold medal bout. At least, that’s how it appeared until the ringside judges revealed their decisions. Despite the fact that Jones had landed 86 punches to Park’s 32, three of the five judges awarded the fight and the gold medal to Park, leaving Jones to look on in disbelief.

Many years after the event, an IOC investigation confirmed what many had rightly suspected, revealing that the judges’ decisions were the product of corruption and bribery rather than incompetence. Undeterred, Jones would go on to become one of the most celebrated boxers of the last 20 years, notching up an impressive 54-7-0 career record.

2. Steelers Argue The Toss (Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Detroit Lions, 26 Nov 1998)

In their defence, successful referees are men of many talents. As well as knowing the rulebook inside-out, you’ve got to be fit, decisive, fair, and consistent. Most importantly, you’ve got to be able to handle the coin toss, an aspect of the job which NFL referee Phil Luckett struggled with on Thanksgiving Day 1998.

At the beginning of overtime, with the game tied at 16-16, Pittsburgh captain Jerome Bettis appeared to call “tails” at the coin toss. Luckett heard otherwise however, and when the coin came up tails, he offered Detroit the option of either kicking or receiving. Despite Bettis’s protestations, the referee’s decision stood.

The Lions elected to receive the football and, less than three minutes later, had snatched victory with a 42-yard field goal. Watch it here.

3. Maamria’s Kung-Fu Tackle (Southport vs. Rushden and Diamonds, 06 Jan 2001)

In a fast-moving sport, referees quite often find themselves having to make decisions on incidents which they have seen from less-than-perfect vantage points. Sometimes, however, the man in black is standing in the perfect position and still makes a decision that is so gobsmackingly wrong as to leave onlookers rubbing their eyes, scratching their head, and questioning their version of reality.

Southport’s Dino Maamria was the beneficiary of one such moment of refereeing madness.  Describing the Turkish striker’s challenge on Rushden defender Tarkan Mustafa as a “tackle” is overly generous (if “tackle” is the word you would choose, I would have a couple of questions about your command of the English language).

Men have been charged with assault for lesser transgressions. Truth be told, a lawsuit and a custodial sentence probably wouldn’t have been a completely out of the question. So, with the referee standing a few feet away from the incident, Maamria could expect a red card at the very least, right?

4. Serena Controversy Paves the Way for Hawk-Eye (Serena Williams vs. Jennifer Capriati, 07 September 2004)

Referees are human. Humans make mistakes. The important thing is that when we do inevitably make a mistake, we learn from it.

The world of tennis certainly learned from Portuguese chair umpire Mariana Alves’ mistakes. In the chair for the 2004 US Open Quarter-Final match between Serena Williams and Jennifer Capriati, Alves was responsible for five incorrect calls in the final set, including her decision to overrule a line judge who had correctly called a Williams forehand winner to be in.

Capriati went on to take the final set 6-4, with Serena claiming afterwards that she was afraid to play her shots down the line for the remainder of the set.

Alves was subsequently relieved of her officiating duties for the remainder of the tournament and, when the tournament rolled around again 12 months later, Hawk-Eye made its first appearance at a grand-slam tournament.

5. Galarraga Robbed of Perfection (Detroit Tigers vs. Cleveland Indians, 02 June 2010)

Only 20 times in the history of Major League Baseball has a pitcher thrown a “perfect game”, retiring 27 consecutive batters without any of them making it to first base.

On June 2nd, Armando Galarraga of the Detroit Tigers almost became number 21. As the game went into the ninth inning, it almost seemed fated that Galarraga would achieve pitching perfection, particularly when centre-fielder Austin Jackson made a stunning catch deep in the outfield to leave the Venezuelan only two batters short of his perfect game.

Having tagged first base ahead of the final batter, the Cleveland Indians’ Jason Donald, Galarraga began to celebrate only to realise that veteran umpire Jim Joyce, officiating at first base, had incorrectly ruled Donald to be safe.

His historic achievement snatched from him by a horrible mistake, Galarraga was the model sportsman, offering a wry and knowing smile in Joyce’s direction before returning to the mound to finish out the game. A tearful Joyce acknowledged his mistake, apologising to the pitcher after the game, while Galarraga explained to the assembled media that “nobody’s perfect. Everybody’s human. I understand.”

Watch it here.

6. Sheridan “Goal” Denies Louth (Meath vs. Louth, 11 July 2010)

An injustice is all the more unjust when it is inflicted on the underdog. Leading by a single point with the three allocated minutes of stoppage time elapsed, Louth appeared to have one hand firmly on the Leinster Championship which they had not won since their All-Ireland winning season in 1957.

As the Royals launched one final attack on the Louth goal, the ball broke to Joe Sheridan who rolled over the line with the ball in his hands before throwing it into the back of the net, his flailing boot failing to make any sort of contact.

Neither referee Martin Sludden nor his umpires appeared to notice that Sheridan hadn’t in fact kicked the ball into the net and, following an all-too-brief consultation which seemed bereft of any sort of discussion of the incident, the “goal” was allowed to stand.

Seconds later, the final whistle blew and, amid some ugly on-pitch scenes, Meath were crowned Leinster Champions.

Subsequently drawn against Dublin in the qualifiers, the Wee County fell to a 2-14 to 0-13 defeat, and were left to contemplate what might have been.

7. Taylor Stopped With 0:02 On The Clock (Julio Cesar Chavez vs. Meldrick Taylor, 17 March 1990)

Referee Richard Steele’s performance in the 1990 WBC & IBF Junior Welterweight unification bout between Julio Cesar Chavez and Meldrick Taylor is one of the most-widely debated in sporting history.

As the fight entered the 12th round, IBF champion Taylor appeared to be in control of an evenly-matched bout, leading 107-102 and 108-101 on two of the judges’ scorecards, leaving Chavez needing a final-round knockout to steal victory.

Taylor struggled to hang on in the last round and, with 15 seconds remaining, was felled by a stunning right hand from the Mexican. As Steele initiated the count, Taylor dragged himself to his feet and, with no time left for Chavez to throw another punch, appeared as though he just done enough to cling on to his victory.

However, when asked twice by Steele if he was ok, the American failed to respond and the referee subsequently stopped the fight with only two seconds left on the clock, arguing afterwards that he could not run the risk of the fighter being hurt further.

At the time, Steele was roundly criticised for not allowing the champion to continue, and also for apparently being unaware that only two seconds remained. A distraught Taylor was subsequently brought to hospital where he was treated for a facial fracture and internal bleeding. In light of the severity of Taylor’s injuries, and the widespread belief that he was never the same after the bout, did Steele get this one right?

There’s our take – but which ones have we missed? Let us know below.

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Niall Kelly

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