AMATEUR SPORT MADE TO LOOK AMATEURISH
The Sunday Age
WELL, well, well. So netball has made a rare visit to the world of prominent headlines and back-page notoriety this past week. It has been discussed with genuine interest by those outside its traditional, devoted core. Overheard in sporting conversations where it has rarely been raised before.
Yet not, sadly, in praise of a superb Superleague grand final between two great rivals in Adelaide last Saturday night. And not, unfortunately, to discuss a magnificent duel between Australian captain Michelle Fielke and her champion national teammate Vicki Wilson. Or an inspiring comeback by new champion Adelaide Contax. Or any number of other highlights.
Instead, the talk has reinforced the cuppa-and-scones reputation that all who administer the sport say they have fought so long to dispel. Farce. Debacle. Fiasco. Schemozzle. Call it what you will. Everyone else has. It has now become clear exactly what happened eight days ago, before 5000 disbelieving patrons at the Adelaide Powerhouse. During the third quarter, the official scorer and the official caller somehow combined to place a goal scored by Adelaide Garville on Adelaide Contax’s side of the sheet.
The three-quarter-time score therefore had Garville trailing 36-37 when in fact it led 37-36, as indicated correctly on the electronic scoreboard. Immediately the scorer, a Sydney-based volunteer, set about reconciling the discrepancy. But she could not. After all, her figures added up. They just added up wrongly.
So when an injury time was called in the last quarter, the stadium board amended Garville’s 42-40 lead to a 41-41 deadlock. And when regular time elapsed, what should have been a 48-46 win was recorded on the sole official scoresheet as 47-47. Garville protested. The fans shrieked. Extra time was played and Contax triumphed 61-58.
All of which was bad enough, with embarrassing confirmation of what most already knew arriving at 6.20pm on Monday when All Australia Netball Association executive director Pam Smith and the ABC’s Colin Nicholson viewed the videotape and the error was identified.
But the damage done since is impossible to quantify. Just as the lead- up to the game was dominated by trivial objections to Contax’s male cheer squad, so the aftermath has ensured that one of the great netball games in the showcase competition, sponsored for $1 million over three years, will be remembered merely, in the words of one prominent official last week, as a complete cock-up”.
The interest of my sports-writing colleagues is usually minimal when I return from a netball event. Perhaps the first exception was the day after the 1991 world championship final, the game that did infinitely more than any other to thrust Australia’s leading female participant sport towards populist credibility. The second was last week. For the opposite reasons.
It is missing the point to argue that at least it is being talked about. There may generally be an element of truth in that old theory, but in this case the attention has merely added to the perception that dear old netball has shot itself in the foot – again.
So, given that the inadequate rules did not provide for prompt viewing of the videotape on Saturday night (that is likely to change) and that apparently neither do they now allow a change of result (perhaps a draw would be the fairest outcome as the Contax players claim they would have played differently had they been behind), or the crowded calendar scope for a replay, where to from here? AANA has admitted its error but dismissed Garville’s appeal and ruled the result will stand.
Still, we now hear that the cause of netball’s problem has been addressed. A system involving three scorers and two callers will be trialled in Canberra next week. While the official scorer will still be required to double as a statistician and record the misses and penalty shots as well as the goals and centre passes, at least there will be cross-reference guides in case of a discrepancy.
Which is all, of course, too late for Garville, whose actions continue to be directed by legal advice and whose appearance in the courts has yet to be ruled out. Even the winners have had a hollow celebration further soured last week by ridiculous public abuse. So the events of last Saturday and the ensuing attention have come at a significant cost. Netballers remain amateur, but their sport has been made to appear foolishly so. It is expensive publicity that all involved can ill-afford.