Anthony Knockaert and other examples of sporting justice

Paul Howarth
Anthony Knockaert 300x225 Anthony Knockaert and other examples of sporting justice

Anthony Knockaert lies on the pitch following his late penalty miss against Watford

About a million years ago, I used to play a fair bit of squash.  Occasionally during a game, an opponent might ask for a ‘let’ that I felt was anything but.  After grudgingly replaying the point, if I won the rally, I’d point skyward and say, “He knows”.

On Sunday afternoon, the Watford players – at least those who are as ungracious as I was on the squash court – could have been forgiven for making a similar point to Leicester City’s Anthony Knockaert.

With the play-off tie level, the French winger had gone to ground in the Watford box in the 95th minute, extracting a penalty decision that even his manager Nigel Pearson acknowledged was “generous”.  Knockaert took the spot kick himself but was denied by goalkeeper Manuel Almunia, the Spaniard saving both his initial effort and his follow-up.  Watford cleared and broke, the ball falling in the Foxes’ box for Troy Deeney to smash home the most dramatic winner.

Knockaert was a broken figure.  But more than that, he might just have written the best ever advertisement for not diving in the penalty area.

By the way, those still ruing Sol Campbell’s disallowed header against Argentina in 1998 might want to remind themselves of Michael Owen’s plunge to win England’s earlier penalty.  Perhaps we were getting our karmic just desserts on that occasion, too.

Where else have we seen the sporting gods dish out justice?

Tiger Woods breaks rule, stays in tournament, loses – thankfully

Last month’s US Masters again produced drama of the highest ilk.  In torrential rain and with the light closing in, Adam Scott drained a nerveless 15-footer to pip Angel Cabrera in the play-off, gaining redemption for last year’s Open, where he’d blown it late on.  Scott had shown himself to be anything but fragile at Augusta, seeing off a spirited Cabrera, who’d played better in this play-off than when he won the tournament in 2009.

And yet the tournament could’ve been overshadowed by two second-round disciplinary rulings.  First, 14-year-old Chinese prodigy Guan Tianlang was penalised a stroke for slow play.  The letter of the law might have justified the penalty.  Nevertheless, the fact that he and playing partner Matteo Manassero were the first to be pinged by the PGA Tour for slow play since 1995 suggests a degree of sensible day-to-day discretion in this area.  Discretion that, sadly, wasn’t applied here.  It was difficult to escape the notion that officials had singled out an easy target to make an example of.

Then there was Tiger Woods’ escape from disqualification.  He took a penalty drop in the wrong place, which made his replayed shot easier than the original.  This misdemeanor earns an automatic two-shot penalty.  However, he claimed not to know he’d broken a rule, and therefore signed an incorrect scorecard: an offence sanctioned by automatic disqualification.  Being unaware of the ruling on the drop is not an excuse.  As one poster pointed out: “It’s either cheating or ignorance – both carry the DQ sentence.”

However, officials applied a recent amendment – designed to prevent players signing for an incorrect score when TV pictures showed they’d unknowingly moved the ball – and assessed him a two-shot penalty only.  My reading of that was that they’d found a weasel to keep Woods in the tournament.

The player himself could equally have withdrawn from the event, as many commentators suggested he should.  He chose not to, as was his right.  The fall-out, had Woods gone on to secure a fifth green jacket, would’ve been corrosive, allowing critics to call into question the game’s jealously-guarded sense of propriety.

I’m glad he failed and delighted for Scott.

Ben Ainslie – “he didn’t want to make me angry”

Justice is not an absolute notion.  In this case, I’m fully prepared to accept and embrace my borderline-jingoistic one-eyed-ness.

What happened was this.  Our brave, brave hero of the high seas, the sainted – and now knighted – Ben Ainslie, was locked in battle for 2012 Olympic glory with Johnny Foreigner.  Well, Jonas Foreigner.  Evil Danish schemer Jonas Høgh-Christensen had beaten Our Boy Ben in all of the first six races of the regatta.  Then, as Ainslie was beginning to make inroads into the lead in subsequent races, Høgh-Christensen and snidey Dutchman Pieter-Jan Postma forced him into a penalty turn.  Both had accused Ainslie of hitting a buoy and, although Ainslie denied it, he felt he had to take the turn as a precaution because it would be “two against one” in the protest room.  Those dirty, low-down Europeans.

In an interview afterwards, Ainslie was clearly seething.  “I was seriously…uh…unhappy with that,” he told the BBC, only just managing to avoid the ‘industrial language’ that the Beeb so fears.  “But, you know, he made a big mistake ‘cos I’m angry.  And he didn’t want to make me angry.”  Yes, Ben!  Come on, our brave boy!

You can keep your Mo Farah, Jess Ennis, Katherine Grainger, Bradley Wiggins.  This, for me, was the highlight of London 2012.

Ainslie’s anger served him well.  He snatched the gold medal from the Dane in the final race.  For good measure, Postma missed out narrowly on bronze.  Now that is what I call justice.

Britannia Rules The Waves.  Rah rah!

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    Lovely sailing story. You are a man who clearly watches a lot of sport!

  • Bollins

    There must be countless examples of this in pre-DRS cricket. You might even say that India’s refusal to use DRS illustrates the point every time one of their batsmen gets an iffy decision…

  • paul_howarth

    Harbhajan hit the cover off one and was given out LBW for the middle leg of Britsa’s hat-trick against them at Trent Bridge in 2011. So, yes, India’s refusal to use DRS certainly bit them there – a sort of rough justice, perhaps.

  • Bollins

    For ’tis the (ahem) sport to have the engineer / Hoist with his own petard. (Hamlet, Prince of Headingley, Act 3 scene 4). Meanwhile, glad I didn’t shell out any cash to watch today’s thrilling run-fest at Lords…

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