Peyper Isn apos;t The Villain It apos;s Vahaamahina Who Deserves Criticism

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French lock Sebastien Vahaamahina smashed an elbow deliberately into an opponent's face with brute force.
He could have caused life-changing injuries. Brain damage; disfiguration; the permanent loss of certain senses, smell, taste, sight.
Deliver this to its logical destination and, informed as we are about the random nature of head trauma, in the worst unfortunate circumstances he could have killed Aaron Wainwright.
Meanwhile, Jaco Peyper posed for a picture with some happy fans, and indulged their little joke.

So you can imagine who is now the biggest villain at the [/sport/rugby-world-cup-2019/index.html Rugby World Cup].
Sebastien Vahaamahina was sent off for this elbow to Wales' Aaron Wainwright on Sunday 
Referee Jaco Peyper (black shirt) has faced criticism for this photo with Wales supporters 
'This photo, if it is true, is shocking and explanations will be necessary,' said French rugby federation vice-president Serge Simon. Seriously?

More shocking than the reckless disregard for the safety and health of an opponent?
As for explanations, French rugby should perhaps feel thankful they are not doing that in a court of law. It is by pure luck that the only explaining will be when Vahaamahina comes before World Rugby's independent judicial committee on Thursday.
Given what might have happened, he has got away with it, particularly as he quit Test rugby on Monday.
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And, no, it wasn't referee Peyper's smartest move to mimic Vahaamahina's raised arm action when asked by some travelling Wales supporters.

At best it lacked the diplomacy and decorum expected of officials, at worst it mocked an incident that could have had serious repercussions for the victim.
Wainwright is a lucky guy. Gary Mabbutt still lives with the consequences of a stray elbow from John Fashanu; Ian Hume's life was only saved by surgery after he was struck by Chris Morgan. 
An elbow to the head, certainly from a man the size of Vahaamahina, is no laughing matter.

So, in that respect - a simple matter of taste - Peyper was wrong.
Yet rugby fans are a genial, robust lot. And if you study the photograph taken with Peyper, all are smiling, all are laughing, there is an obvious harmlessness to the pose.

Peyper probably got carried away with the banter and bonhomie of it all.
A group of seven surround him and by the looks of it, drink had been taken. A couple have their elbows up, and Peyper has been persuaded to do the same. One of the group then rests his head on the arm, a gentle recreation of a violent incident.
Does anyone seriously think this brief moment of good-humoured engagement compromises Peyper's impartiality; that it clouds his motives, or his judgement?
The French second-row receives his marching orders from Peyper, which changed the game 
Vahaamahina's red card has got to be the most clear and obvious disciplinary call of the tournament.

Watching it among a large group of rugby journalists in the press room at Tokyo Stadium - including some from France - not one questioned Peyper's decision. The moment the replay was first run, to a man it was decided: red. Not yellow, not sin bin. Red.
The idea that many hours later a light-hearted image could impugn Peyper's neutrality or make us see the decision in a new light is utterly ludicrous.
Nothing about what Peyper did is suspicious. 
France are not out of the World Cup because the official went rogue or had an agenda, but because Vahaamahina's recklessness changed the game.That is why the Welsh fans were having their fun. They knew that without that moment of idiot savagery, Wales would in all likelihood have lost. 
And even if Vahaamahina is now the punchline on their camera phone, he is still quite fortunate.

It could have been worse had he connected significantly. He could have been facing a lot more than Thursday's hearing.
Instead, it was Peyper who was in the stocks on Monday. It doesn't take much to spark controversy in modern life, particularly for referees.
A throwaway comment, a mistimed interview, the censure of a big name in a big match and now this: mocking a thug who tried to smash an opponent's face in and got exactly what he deserved.
We want it all ways. We want referees to be human and approachable and then, when they are, we prefer them aloof and austere.

Peyper could have brushed off the Welsh supporters, could have marched on and refused to stop, but instead he embraced the spirit of a successful, friendly tournament and engaged.
And then, most of Monday, World Rugby dealt with the fallout from this, of whether he should be sanctioned, or stood down, or even sent home - all of which would be far more immediate, harsher, punishments than Vahaamahina has received so far.
The widespread belief is that Peyper has taken charge of his last game at this World Cup, for jokingly referencing a decision he won't even have seen as controversial.
And on it goes. Damian Steiner, the chair umpire at this summer's Wimbledon men's final, was fired by the ATP for giving a series of unauthorised interviews in his native Argentina, none of which were remotely controversial.

Carlos Ramos went woefully unsupported by the WTA and many senior figures in tennis when he gave two code violations against Serena Williams in last year's US Open.
Tennis chair umpire Damian Steiner was fired by the ATP for giving unauthorised interviews 
Pat Riley, former coach of NBA team the Miami Heat, was known for clashing with match officials.

During a game with the Portland Trail Blazers, umpire Derrick Stafford told him during a heated exchange: 'It's not about you - go on TV crying.' Stafford, not Riley, was banned for two matches.
Taking on Pakistan's cricketers over ball-tampering as good as ended Darrell Hair's career as an elite umpire.
Sporting authorities are always spoiling for a fight with officials in a way they never seem to be with clubs, players and coaches.
Had Peyper been pictured with grinning Welsh fans before the quarter-final with France, it could have compromised his integrity.
Had he found some way, in mime, to make light of the forward pass controversy for Wales' winning try - although that also went to the TMO - it could be considered deliberately provocative.

But this?
The only person deserving of lengthy sanction is Vahaamahina. That he is now the victim shows how utterly warped our logic has become.
  UK has hate crime, but we're not in the same league as serial racists Bulgaria 
The problem with constantly broadening the argument about racism in football is that only inertia results.

Stan Collymore pertinently contrasted the outrage over events in Sofia last week with statistics from this country. He said 78,473 arrests were made in the UK last year for racism and hate crimes. 
That is not the same as guilty verdicts but it's still a staggering number.
He compared the mild acceptance of this with the outcry over 40 people in a stadium in Sofia. And 40 versus 78,473 is a mismatch. Maybe Bulgaria's offended officials were right: Britain is the more racist society.
Yet that probably isn't true, if we consider that Bulgaria's federation president, their manager, their goalkeeper, their media, all found ways to dismiss the very obvious presence of racists in the ground, whereas the same event on these shores would have been universally condemned.
For Bulgaria's racists do not number 40.

That was just the few that made their presence felt that night. To compare this tiny group to a giant societal statistic is misleading and if we do, maybe we should then consider how hard it is to get arrested for a hate crime in Bulgaria, compared to Britain. Consider this report from The Guardian about the treatment of Roma people in Sofia, quoting Roma taxi driver Steffan Stefanov.
Former Bulgaria coach Krasimir Balakov resigned four days after the match against England 
'Bulgaria and racism,' he said, 'the two go hand-in-hand.' His friend, Miroslav Angelo, told the reporter that when he lived in Plumstead, south London, 'it felt like a weight had been lifted off me'.

Stephen Lawrence was from Plumstead, by the way.
Krasimir Karakachanov is the deputy prime minister, minister for defence and minister for public order and security in Bulgaria. His Roma integration strategy is to be presented to parliament, defining Roma as 'asocial Gypsies' - a term used by the Nazis - and calling for limits on the number of children Roma women can have, the introduction of compulsory labour education schools for Roma children and forced work programmes.

He has shown support for Roma 'reservations' that could become 'tourist attractions'. 
So, all things considered, if that's the government talking it probably is quite hard to get arrested for a hate crime in Bulgaria. Yet by constantly shifting the focus to our own problems, by playing this game of equivalency, it only relieves the pressure on FIFA, UEFA and football's national organisations to address racism at stadiums. 
Surely we do what we can, when we can, without waiting for society to be perfect?

Collymore makes valid points but equivalency becomes an intellectual exercise. Better to address the problem when we see it: that's here, there and everywhere.
  Downes was a wally but didn't deserve the axe 
AFC Wimbledon like to be known for their craziness.

They still milk the Crazy Gang era for branding and marketing purposes, as is their right. It was the players, however, not the club, who created the Crazy Gang and one player more than most: Wally Downes.
He was sacked as Wimbledon manager last week, having first been suspended for betting on football.
There were eight wagers considered in total, amounting to £600.71 and placed over a period of six years. Included in this was a six-bet accumulator that included two football matches, and two four-bet accumulators that included two and one. 
There is a double on MLS games and a £1.95 treble on women's football matches in Paraguay, Mexico and the United States, placed by Downes' partner as a response to a sequence of small losses on horse racing.

It was a joke. 'See if you can do better.'
Wally Downes was sacked as manager of AFC Wimbledon last week following betting offences 
Betting on football is illegal, it was a huge mistake, and regretted.

Some of the accumulators included QPR, where Downes was coaching at the time - but only to win. That the consequence is the loss of his job, then, seems utterly disproportionate. Much like the FA punishment - £3,000, five times the value of the stake, plus a 28-day ban.
It is hard to imagine they didn't know it would lead to the sack, too.
Still, that's the great strength of the FA. They've always got a hammer ready in case any nuts need cracking.
At first it looked as if Downes would be dismissed for misconduct but now Wimbledon have won games under caretaker Glyn Hodges in his absence, Monday's statement got nearer the truth.

'The boards believe that a change of first-team manager is the best option to help the club maintain its recent upturn in performances,' AFC Wimbledon said.
So it's a football decision. No-one will know if that corner would have been turned anyway but Wimbledon simply ran out of patience and wanted a change.
Downes kept Wimbledon up by three goals last season and his reward was to have his budget cut by £1million. A relegation battle can hardly have come as a great surprise, but managers are always easier scapegoats than the real decision-makers.
'Wally leaves with our sincerest best wishes for the future and his place in our club's history, as both player and manager, assured,' a rather corporate and not-at-all-crazy statement concluded.

Wimbledon might continue to make money from the spirit of a bygone age but, deep down, they're all the same these days.
  Is an inanimate object racist? Anti-racism footballs were deployed in the Premier League this weekend. 
Does this mean that up to now, racist footballs were being used instead?

And will the League go back to those racist footballs in two weeks' time? And exactly how does an inanimate object become racist, or anti-racist, for that matter? 
Footballs emblazoned with Kick It Out's 'No room for racism' slogan were used this weekend
As these vital questions were being pondered over in an image consultants somewhere, the players of Haringey Borough were doing something rather more tangible in the fight against prejudice, by just walking off. 
A pity the type of folk who think racism is best beaten with slogans don't do the same.

Beachy Head might be a good place to start.
  Typhoons are like relatives at Christmas In what must be an utterly mystifying development to all those at World Rugby bemoaning the freak weather that has befallen Japan and its Rugby World Cup in October, guess what is heading our way and in time for the weekend, too?
That's the problem with attributing a man-made calendar to a natural phenomenon. Typhoons don't measure their existence in months.

They just turn up when they want, like relatives at Christmas.
  Guardiola would do away with a goalkeeperPep Guardiola once said his ideal team would have 11 midfielders. 
He won't be as alarmed by the thought of Rodri and Fernandinho at centre half as many suspect.
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