Shouldering arms to sports controversies

See it: That arm. Raised. Photo: Screenshot of the Nine broadcast
See it: That arm. Raised. Photo: Screenshot of the Nine broadcast

Arms. Wow, don't they cause some strife?

It's probably reasonable to assume that in any sports drama with a code of football at its core, arms are highly likely to play the arch-villain.

Arms are, after all, diametrically opposed to the star of the show, the "foots".

So really, maybe we shouldn't be quite so alarmed when arms are the cause of chaos.

Witness the NRL grand final on Sunday night. Referee Ben Cummins changed the course of the game when he waggled his arm above his head for a second or two.

That arm movement - however brief - signalled to the Canberra Raiders they had time on their side. And in the 73rd of a premiership decider, that was crucial. The problem was they didn't and almost as soon as he raised his arm, Cummins changed his mind.

The "six again" controversy has enveloped the sport. Given it a veritable bear hug of Mal Meninga proportions if we're to extend that arm metaphor.

Only a fortnight before was there another arm/hand drama when a touchie ruled on the Melbourne Storm's last throw of the dice that winger Suliasi Vunivalu went into touch. He didn't.

AFL has had its arm-related incidents, the 'Selwood shrug' prompting all sorts of commentary of the past couple of seasons.

But nowhere near as much as the most celebrated of all international arm incidents which ticked over 33 years of outrage earlier this year.

It was, of course, the 1986 World Cup quarter-final between Argentina and England.

The game was scoreless when defender Steve Hodge looked to hoof clear a ball but sliced it towards his own goal. As goalkeeper Peter Shilton loomed towards it, so too did an Argentinian - Diego Maradona.

That Shilton stands 20cms taller than the then-pocket dynamo (and could legitimately use his hands) clearly meant nothing. The Argentinian No.10, left arm outstretched as he leapt, managed to connect with his fist and in it went.

All sorts of drama ensued and continued relentlessly until 2005 when Maradona admitted he scored with his hand. It was reignited a few years later when an English newspaper wrote the Argentinian had apologised. He hadn't and the Hand of God debate continues, unabated.

Thanks to a huge dollop of diplomacy from Raiders coach Ricky Stuart, this is unlikely to escalate to such epic proportions.

But the significance of arms in football should never be underestimated.

Janine Graham is an ACM journalist