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New twist to Ireland's video umpire controversy

 

Hot topic: Ireland captain Jonny Bell debates the video review decision with the match umpire
Hot topic: Ireland captain Jonny Bell debates the video review decision with the match umpire

By John Flack

It has emerged that the video umpire at the centre of the controversy in Ireland's agonising penalty shoot-out defeat by Canada at the Olympic qualifier in Vancouver on Sunday night was undertaking the role for only the second time.

Argentinian Diego Barbas awarded a penalty stroke in the last second of the game after what he adjudged as a deliberate foul by Lee Cole in the circle following a video referral by the Canadians.

The hosts converted from the spot and went on to win a sudden death penalty shoot-out to book their tickets to Tokyo at Ireland's expense.

It was a heartbreaking moment for the Irish, who had started their celebrations after the on-field umpire had signalled for full-time, having seen nothing untoward in the incident involving Cole and Canada's James Wallace.

However, the video umpire saw it differently and deemed it as a deliberate offence, and when Canada scored the penalty the double-headed Olympic qualifier was tied on aggregate.

Like the rest of the players, Ireland captain Jonny Bell was upset at the decision, and even more so when he learned that the video umpire was so inexperienced in the role.

The Lisnagarvey defender believes the sport's world governing body, the International Hockey Federation (FIH), needs to provide an explanation.

"There are certainly questions to be asked that need to be answered about that but it's probably not my place to be discussing it now," said Bell.

"However, in a game of that magnitude, who is officiating at it and what sort of video referral is being used and is it worth even using it at all, if it's not robust enough, are all questions that need answered by the FIH.

"Trust in the officials is fundamental to every sport. If the players have no trust in the officials, then the whole fabric of the sport is undermined.

"The FIH has a duty to come out, whether it is an apology, a clarification or a route map on how they are going to put this right to ensure it doesn't happen again."

Another of Ireland's gripes at the video referral infrastructure that was in place in Vancouver surrounded the lack of variety in camera angles that were available to the umpires and the third official in the video box.

At other major tournaments, up to six or seven angles are provided but, on this occasion, there was not even reverse-angle footage available to Mr Barbas.

So he had only a limited, wide angle, rear-view of the crucial incident involving Cole and the Canadian.

Bell believes the video umpire's decision and that of the on-field official, who ultimately followed his advice and awarded the crucial penalty, was all done with too much haste.

It has also emerged that the video umpire does not have the final say in such matters and that rests with the on-field umpire who, in this case, had initially indicated there had been no infringement by Cole.

The FIH General Tournament Regulations: Outdoor Competitions states in paragraph 6.1: "The final decision, including any matter of interpretation, remains with the match umpires and not the video umpire."

Bell added: "In the light of the magnitude of the decision, with Olympic qualification at stake, I would have thought the match umpire in this case might have asked the video umpire was he absolutely sure that it was a penalty stroke.

"Whatever the video umpire said in answer to that question, then the match umpire has the right to overrule him, but there's nothing we can do about it now unless there is some route that Hockey Ireland can examine.

"The decision to award the penalty and the fact we went on to lose the game has many ramifications resting on it, including funding and hockey careers and lifelong dreams that have been shattered."

Ireland goalkeeper David Harte, who missed the game due to injury, was equally distraught.

He added: "Lives were directed towards this and we are all devastated. Right now, I can't really start thinking about the future because it is still so raw.

"I still can't get my head around it but it is just so cruel."

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