In boxing, the first and simplest of the combat sports to get itself organised, the referee from the earliest days brought the fighters’ gloves together and said: ‘May the best man win.’ There is an acknowledgement in this saying, a sporting dread, that the best man will not always win. The best man sometimes loses. This creates a visceral sense of injustice – sport needs to be fairer than this.
The injustice of cheating can be stopped. That’s why rules are invented and evolve. Then there’s the referee himself. In Wales 8 France 9, the semi-final of the Rugby World Cup, in one of the least simple of combat sports, the referee created a situation in which the best team was most unlikely to win. And they didn’t. But only just, which goes to show by quite how much they were the better team on the pitch.
I love French rugby, everyone knows that, but France shouldn’t be in the World Cup Final. What’s disappointing about Alain Rolland’s decision is that it extracted the heart from the game. He ignored what he knew about the human beings in front of him.
There are vicious idiots in the game of rugby, who aim to injure with malicious intent. They tend not to thrive, and such a brutal sport could never prosper without good faith. Roland would have talked to the captains before the match. He knew who he was dealing with, and there’s no evidence that Warburton (or Dusattoir, for that matter) aren’t the self-effacing heros they appear to be from the outside looking in.
Stop, Alain, think. Warburton is not a vicious idiot (he’s not Jamie Joseph). Clerc is very small. He tips easily. But there was no stopping and no thinking. The best team lost, and this decision didn’t only ruin the semi-final, it ruins the final as well. Everyone wants to see the two best teams in the tournament contest the prize match at the very end. That’s not going to happen – and even if neutral fans can muster some excitement, there’s always the fear that the officials may well ruin the day again.
My heart aches for Wales, and for Warburton. The injustice, his life-changing opportunity cut short, the hollowing of Wales. These are not the feelings that sport at its best is supposed to provoke, when justice is done and the best man wins. This was the opposite, the best man losing, the worst-case eventuality feared from the beginning of organised sport and that we still haven’t managed to eradicate. Human beings are useless.
Except the valiant Wales 14, who were magnificent. Unfortunately, this makes the unfairness even greater. This is a why-oh-why moment, with god absent from his heaven. It’s a day when it feels like there were better things to do, in a universe that ought to reward its champions.