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Rules in Sport and Life

Bi-weekly columnist Gord Turner observes how rules are in effect for good reason.

I watched a lot of the London 2012 Olympics. And like you, I was dismayed when the Canadian Women’s soccer team was penalized near the end of the match and subsequently lost the game.

I couldn’t believe the referee would call a goalie delay of game penalty when the game was so close and so near the end. This is a penalty that’s rarely called and then only after several warnings. I was angry—as were hundreds of thousands of Canadians who were watching,

On the other hand, when the delay of game sequence was replayed, it was clear the Canadian goalie, Erin McLeod, held the ball for more than 12 seconds. By the rules, the ball had to be put back in play within six seconds.  In a game so close and so near the end as the U.S.-Canada match was, holding the ball longer would be a disadvantage to the U.S. team.

The rule was there. The referee invoked it—and the rest is Olympic history.

That doesn’t mean we have to like the decision. If asked, I’m sure Erin McLeod did not intend to hold the ball for so long.  But intentions don’t have a place in higher-level sport—as they often don’t have in life.

I remember driving home from Grand Forks after teaching a course at Selkirk College’s Grand Forks Centre.  I was happy to be finished the course and was driving along casually. In fact, when several people passed, I said to myself, “Let them go. I’m going to stay within the speed limit.”

I was listening to jazz on the radio and reflecting on my plans for the rest of the summer. As I cleared the top of the pass and began to descend, I came around a corner and met a police car. I looked down at my speedometer, which read 107 km/hour. The policeman pointed at me and waved me over.

As he began to write out the ticket, I told him I had not intended to speed. I told him I had been driving below the speed limit, and that it was accidental that I was speeding.

He looked me in the eye and said, “How do I know what you intended? You were driving over the speed limit—and here’s your ticket.”  When the Canadian men’s 4x100 relay team at the Olympics was disqualified, they were probably more devastated than the Women’s Soccer team. At least the women soccer players were able to move on to another match.

The men won the bronze but then were disqualified because one team member, Jared Connaughton, stepped on the line of an adjoining lane. Clearly, he never intended on stepping on the line. In fact, his stepping on the line really didn’t help the team finish any faster.

During the after-race interview, Connaughton took full responsibility for his error.  He said it was just a misstep, but he also admitted that the “rule about lines is unforgiving.” He did it. It was observed. The team was stripped of its medal.

There is a strictness of rules in many sports. I’m certain the Saskatchewan Roughrider team in the last few seconds of the 2009 Grey Cup never intended to have 13 players on the field when the Montreal Alouettes’ field goal was tried and missed.

But 13 players is viewed as unfair to the other team—so a penalty was called, the kick was tried again, and Saskatchewan lost the Grey Cup.

When you’ve broken a rule and never intended it, sometimes in life a person in authority might excuse you or let you off.

But in sports, that’s not the case—as we Canadians witnessed during the recent Olympics.