KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY —- Sport struggles to comprehend the law, for two reasons.
Firstly all involved – officials, fans, participants, media – are traduced by their all-consuming absorption into believing that sport exists on its own self-contained planet; this is plainly illogical.
Secondly, the law and its associated judicial process cannot be compacted into the convenient, short-term packaging in which sport specialises.
A football match lasts 90 minutes, at the most 120, and then, at the extreme, only a few minutes more for penalties; a cricket match is five days at most and a few hours of Twenty20 at least; tennis is time-managed by the tiebreak.
If only the law were as neat and tidy and predictable. But it is not. Three instances over the past fortnight illustrate the chasm of misunderstanding and competing demands.
The killing of Reeva Steenkamp by Oscar Pistorius was one. On the day of the verdict the International Paralympic Committee was stampeded by the media into issuing an unwisely premature statement about the terms under which he might return, one day, to competition.
Yet this was a full month before Tuesday’s sentencing which represented the factual conclusion of the case and the only basis on which such speculation might be indulged.
Further proof of sport’s naive impatience concerned Ched Evans after the Sheffield United and Wales footballer was released following completion of half his five-year sentence for rape.
Cubic volumes of airtime and acres of print have consumed arguments about the possibility or impossibility of redemption for a time-served criminal within a high-visible public mlieu.
Much of the argument has revolved around the issue of Evans’s failure to express remorse for the crime.
Yet this has all been speciously ill-founded. Evans’s lawyers are appealing that he was wrongfully convicted. Hence, should he express remorse then he would be conceding guilt which would derail his appeal.
Again, the race to sporting and populist judgment has been unrelated to the inexorable grind of the judicial process.
A third issue, less important since it does not concern the loss of innocent life or the inflicting of lifelong psychological trauma, was the Michael Garcia report.
The American attorney, charged with investigating FIFA’s 2018-2022 bid scandal, undertook (with the assistance of deputy Cornel Borbely) interviews with 78 witnesses over two years.
Perfectly properly those interviews were conducted under agreed terms of confidentiality. Garcia produced an interim report which was forwarded to judge Hans-Joachim Eckert.
Immediately, the world’s media demanded publication.
Yet . . . would any journalist – whether employed by BBC, Sky, The Times or Daily Mail all the way down to the Kidderminster Shuttle – expect their own confidential discussions with a lawyer (or doctor, even) to be published?
Of course not.
Indeed, the British media’s leader writers have just been jumping and down in a rage on discovering that police have used a legal loophole to peer into confidential journalistic communications (Hacking the hackers? Police on both sides of the judicial fence? It’s a story for another day).
In not only the UK but most democratic jurisdictions, the police investigate an offence then deliver the evidence (statements of accused and accusers) to a separate prosecutor to consider the validity of a case.
No-one demands the half-time, half-truth publication of such investigations; no-one demands pre-trial publication of untested allegations and assumptions.
Why should the Garcia report be any different?
(Two caveats exist but do not override confidentiality: Firstly, Garcia is publicly in favour of “appropriate” publication but that does not mean right now and does not mean every jot and comma; secondly, FIFA is vulnerable to suspicion because of so much obfuscation and corruption down the years. On this count it has only itself to blame).
Garcia’s investigation is not a formal legal process per se. But the route to any charges and/or punishments could end up being addressed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport which is itself answerable for legal probity to the Swiss federal courts.
Garcia and Eckert cannot play by their own rules. One day their work may be scrutinised by the highest judges in the land.
Planet sport exists within the legal solar system not outside of it. The route to justice (whether flawed or not) is never as neat and tidily decisive as the final whistle or hooter or bell or fallen wicket.
Those of us in the media might usefully remember that our duty is not only to ask questions – including awkward, unfriendly even unpopular ones – but to offer the answers which the privilege of insight should offer.
Even if the answers take more explaining than the simplicity of a scoreline.