Spectator sport

Is it time to consign VAR to Room 101?

29 February 2020

9:00 AM

29 February 2020

9:00 AM

Thankfully, Tyson Fury is as good at boxing as he is terrible at singing. But he really should pick on someone his own size: he’s a colossal 6ft 9in tall and 19st 7lb in weight. And he can punch. And he can weave. And he can feint and dip. And he is unbelievably fast. A three-stone advantage is just not on when the bigger man can fight.

Quite often exceptionally big men can’t though. The Russian Nikolai Valuev, now a politician, was known as the Beast from the East when he boxed. He was 7ft tall and weighed more than 23st, the tallest and heaviest world boxing champion there has ever been, but he wasn’t much cop. Primo Carnera was much the same: 6ft 7in and 19st, but pretty moderate.

But Fury is big and, boy, can he fight too, and the bout in Las Vegas was akin to a middleweight taking on a lightweight. Maybe there should be a new category for fighters over 19st: colossusweight, titanicweight? And boxing fans eager for an all–British reunification fight with Anthony Joshua should be careful what they wish for. I doubt even AJ will relish stepping through the ropes for that.

A lot of people aren’t so keen on Fury. He has had issues with booze and recreational drugs as well as mental illness. He failed a drugs test (he says his high level of testosterone was due to eating uncastrated wild boar), and has battled with obesity and depression. He has also made some choice remarks about homosexuality. And if you’re not a fan, you might say he’s been given a free pass because of his frankness about mental illness. I would say: give the guy a break. He’s a heavyweight boxer from a travelling community who was brought up in a caravan and left school at some ungodly age. He’s not a fellow of Balliol. Let bygones be bygones.

Before the world plunges into self-induced psychosis over VAR, we should just bear this in mind: first, the offside rule was introduced to stop goal-hanging, not to measure the amount some nostril hair was the wrong side of the line. And second, VAR was brought in to correct obvious howlers, not for forensic analysis of a move, leading, if at all possible, to the cancellation of a goal. After another weekend of VAR controversy chant, is it time to admit the system is horribly flawed and should be confined to Room 101?

But in the surprisingly good news about football department, what does Pep Guardiola think he’s doing by guaranteeing total loyalty to Manchester City? It’s hard to get one’s head around it, but it restores a sliver of faith in the still beautiful if slightly tarnished game.

Meanwhile, in the typically bad news about football department, the fifth-round matches of the FA Cup will all be held midweek, with no replays: a further dismantling of the tradition that once established the world’s oldest soccer competition as the most compelling in the sport. Stand by for the whole FA Cup to be held in a week in February in Dubai.

Everyone who likes sport will have a soft spot for BBC Radio 5 Live. But the station should look to its laurels. The feisty interloper Talksport picked up the blue-riband broadcasting gong at this week’s sports journalism awards — and if I know the talented, hungry people who run Talksport, it won’t stop there. It will be looking for more talent, and more rights to key sports events. It has already kicked Test Match Special to the kerb by bagging some plums on the overseas cricket circuit. The BBC has a rare knack for dropping some of its best talent — Cornelius Lysaght, anyone? — so prepare for Talksport to come aplundering. Seconds out…


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