Antoinette Muller

Officiating stuck in dark ages

2013-11-11 11:37
Sport24 columnist Antoinette Muller (File)

See pics of the Springboks watching Man Utd vs Arsenal at Old Trafford.

It has happened to everyone, but it’s more than likely happened quite often to you if you support a “smaller team”. A dubious penalty decision flips a game on its head and results in the end scoreline favouring the bigger team.

The 1 picture Gunners fans HATE to see...

When West Brom pushed Chelsea to the brink of defeat on Saturday, it happened again. An Oscar-worthy performance from Ramires in the 96th minute resulted in a penalty for the hosts, with them trailing 2-1. West Brom had muscled Chelsea around for most of the game and were on course to record a historic victory at Stamford Bridge, their first at the ground since 1978. However, that dream was cruelly culled by a penalty decision and Jose Mourinho’s men forged the great escape.

From a neutral perspective, such incidents are a blight on the game. They are irksome detractors that slowly, but surely sap all the romance out of a great competition. Football needs to consider embracing technology beyond the goalline tech and think about a way to employ some sort of review system - as used by almost every other sport.

It took the pundits on SkySports' match day show 10 seconds to take the referee’s call to pieces and deem it nonsensical. The arguing on the pitch lasted for about a minute. It was not a penalty and even the most biased Chelsea supporter will be hard pressed to justify the decision.

A review of the incident would have made that clear to the referee, but football doesn’t subscribe to the notion that sometimes humans need a little help.

Officials could benefit from having instant replays on the field to review an incident themselves before making a call, but FIFA have kicked their heels against this notion a few times before.

In 2005, Urs Linsi, general secretary of FIFA insisted that the "human element" needs be preserved in the sport. He said: Players, coaches and referees all make mistakes. It's part of the game. It's what I would call the "first match". What you see after the fact on video simply doesn't come into it; that's the "second match", if you like. Video evidence is useful for disciplinary sanctions, but that's all. As we've always emphasised at FIFA, football's human element must be retained. It mirrors life itself and we have to protect it.”

Sepp Blatter says that refereeing mistakes add to the "fascination and popularity of football."

Frankly, that is a head up the backside kind of thinking. Why on earth, in an age where all kinds of technology is available, would governing bodies be content with mistakes which could turn a team’s fortune? Surely ensuring that mistakes are limited and eliminated, especially in cases where a small team get one over the big guys would be far more fascinating that the time and effort that is thrown into debating diving, cheating and wrong decisions? Football is stuck in the dark ages when it comes to its officiating.

One of the biggest problems facing the possibility of a review from a fourth official, is that decisions are often subjective. Ramires’ dive was an exception and while a review decision would have resulted in him being the one booked for diving since it was more a baby giraffe on ice skates than a foul for a penalty. Other decisions aren’t quite so simple. Sometimes decisions are 50-50 and employing an “umpire’s call” for a game like soccer seems a tad foolish, especially since there is no technology to deem whether something was a dive or not. However, the most logical approach would be to allow the on-field official to look at the footage again and decide whether he made the right call, but he needs to do so without too much outside influence. If such a system were to work, soccer might want to consider changing the rules of who is allowed to speak to a referee.

Players piling onto an official squabbling over what should and shouldn’t be often takes up a chunk of time and only makes them look like petulant teenagers and, in some extreme cases, sways the on-field decision. The simple solution is to only allow the captains to speak to the referee and relay the information to their teammates. If team-mates barge in, book them.

The current system where players and officials are not held accountable for their behaviour only encourages foul play. Diving in soccer is becoming as much part of the “strategy” of the game as the offside trap. A win at all costs approach, even if that means looking like a cheating weasel.

The Premier League is indeed a spectacle, sold on high entertainment value, but when that entertainment comes at the cost of another team’s glory moment so frequently, some things clearly need a rethink.

Antoinette Muller is a freelance writer who writes mainly about soccer and cricket for The Daily Maverick or anybody else who will have her...

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