POLITICS AND MORALITY

By Mark Daniell
Sep 4th, 2007

Who would have thought it? Just when the backs were against the wall, when other teams were playing well and earning points to pull them up the league table, just when things were looking disastrous and a positive result was absolutely essential, Ramprakash and Butcher team up to score two centuries and see Surrey crush Hampshire by and innings and 37 runs to jump clear of the relegation zone. Great stuff.

See what I did there? In the parlance of our times I ‘offset’ the disappointment witnessed in the footballing world with good news from the cricketing world, thereby turning what would have been a sporting negative situation into a sporting neutral one. And thanks to that offsetting we can now all get on with our weeks sporting neutral.

That may have sounded easy, but when you consider just how stinky last weekend’s sport was you’ll see that it took some doing. Not only did our radiant banana neon strip lose for the first time, which I didn’t think was possible, but Man U snuck a cheeky, below par win against Sunderland. Also, an Arsenal (there’s another one in Argentina, so I’ve relegated them from ‘the’ to ‘an’, it’s only fair) and Liverpool, both jumped us in the league. As if to compound events, England were trounced by India and for some reason there’s athletics on TV. All told, that’s a lot of sporting negativity to offset, but Ramps and Butch did the job.

Of course the offsetting concept is not my own idea; everybody’s offsetting stuff these days, regardless of whether it makes any sense or not. I read recently that David Cameron offset his long-haul flight to Rwanda by donating cash to a company that swaps diesel water pumps in India with human-operated foot pumps. I drove to the country last weekend, if I slash my neighbour’s tyres and thus prevent him from driving, does that make me carbon neutral? I guess so.

But hey, who am I to question the steamy world of politics and morality? Well, as it happens I’m more obliged than I might otherwise have been as the dubious world of offsetting has crept in to the world of football as well. A couple of weeks ago Chelsea were given a, shall we say… generous, penalty against Liverpool to grab a point. Against Villa we had a, shall we say… obvious, penalty denied us which doubtless would have altered the entire course of the game. I don’t care how well-constructed O’Neill’s management, with an early goal Chelsea would have walked it, when possession is 70-30 in favour of the visiting team, the home side doesn’t give off a particularly imposing impression.

But we didn’t get the penalty and impartial observers will say that the decision balances out the one against Liverpool and imply that luck is balanced out by the chaotic nature of the universe and referees’ decisions. They would have it that, in the long run, premiership referees ‘offset’ a penalty here with a non-penalty there and the season is hence penalty neutral. In people’s minds that’s how it works: as long as something bad is offset somewhere else, then who can have cause for complaint?

It’s a moral argument, but when you post it next to hypothetical imperatives it comes out as unconvincing. Given the choice between prevention, cure and offsetting by doing something elsewhere, I know which one I see picking up the bronze. By such rationale, I could let my dog poo all over the pavement and offset it by paying an 80 quid fine. Once I’ve paid, I’m moral neutral, so that guy who finds himself with sh*t on his shoes can’t come complaining to me.

Either way, there’s no point in losing any sleep over it, penalty decisions come and go, meanwhile the season progresses. We’ve got twenty days until the tennis ball strip is bouncing around Old Trafford; bearing in mind England’s chances in the rugby world cup and the Euro qualifiers that both take place before that date, especially now that it looks like Emile ‘the real deal’ Heskey is returning up front to partner Michael ‘old man’ Owen, we’re going to have a whole lot more bad news to offset by the 23rd.

In the meantime however, I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to offset my breakfast…

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