In the history of competitive sport, there have been innumerate refereeing howlers.
Witness the recent Scotland v the Aussies rugby debarkle, the time I was outrageously penalised for cheating at Scrabble, and all those times on the terraces singing "Who's the bastard in the black?" with the masses, as a result of some dodgy decision that I usually either missed, or didn't understand anyway. To be honest, I just enjoyed the sing-song.
It is highly unfortunate that MTBing doesn't have a rich tradition of mass abuse of officials through song. Wouldn't you feel better if you got it all off your chest with a quick chorus of "you don't know what you're doing!" instead of huffing off to your car like a muddy toddler in a tantrum and taking it all out on Facebook?
Now that some time has passed and my fists have unclenched, I am ready to tell the tragically unjust story of a recent decision at a MTB race - the Inter Regional MTB Champs.
For those that still have their head in the sand, the Inter Regionals is the best weekend of MTB racing you'll ever witness, or for most of you never witness, due to the lack of a vet category and the fact that no-one just goes to watch and support racing. Three nose-bleed days of competition - a skills day, a handicap race, team relay, eliminator, and all culminating in the grand finale of the cross country race, over a hundred of the country's best under 16s kicking crap out of each other to win points and glory for their region.
When I wake up in the morning, before my feet hit the floor, I can kid myself that I'm still the same hound dog I was in my mid twenties. Then my body has to fight gravity to get me moving and every ache, pain and bit of gristly scar tissue remind me of my true age which seems to be increasingly measured in dog years. Then I go out for a ride (or even worse, a race) with the young riders and brother, I'm a dinosaur. Put me back in my chair, stick a blanket over my knees and book me in at a Swiss clinic.
We went along as support staff for the South-West squad. Now, take no notice of the presence of Jamie Oliver, the summer visits by random royals and the number of Audis at the beach; the South West is a third world country. Nationally recognised as a deprived area, we are geographically challenged, have the Wurzels as cultural icons and consider pasties and cider as luxury food items. However, until the XC element, we were in fourth place out of fourteen regions! Ahead of Wales! We were beating a country!
'Twas a red-hot and humid day at Hadleigh. The kids mustered their resources (which I suspect were largely down to Haribo) and produced the best cross country race I've ever seen. The boys' race ended with riders, parents and staff whooping, hollering and high-fiving. Then the Commissaires, with the emphasis on the 'commie', announced that they had DQed two riders for...wait for it.....dropping gel wrappers outside the feed zone. I kid you not. Not only that, but these two wrappers were dropped about 5 metres outside the feed-zone among a shed load of other litter that was dropped but not witnessed by the resident fun-sponge official. As dick-swinging competitions went, this was Olympic standard, but more importantly their decision was just plain wrong. No arguments, no appeals, assume the position and take it like a man.
So one of our lads, who like the others had raced himself into the ground, and the eventual race winner, were both disqualified as they crossed the line, having been left to turn themselves inside out for two laps after the alleged misdemeanour happened.
THEN! At podium time, the newly elevated race winner, in the spirit of sportsmanship and solidarity, called the DQed litter-lout actual winner up to share the top step of the podium. The crowd, as you can imagine, went wild. Unanimous applause, cheers and 'for he's a jolly good fellow's. For this action... deep breath... they were both fined £100. All the progress made with engaging young riders was wiped out in the blink of an eye. Tossers.
Now I thought the Red Dwarf boys had a long journey, but the drive back from Hadleigh that day was a close second.
Apparently there is a problem Nationally with retaining young riders. No shit.