Referee selections for Russia World Cup are puzzling

2018-06-10 06:07
2018 Soccer World Cup (Supplied)

Johannesburg - With the start of the World Cup just around the corner, the excitement is already building among the teams, fans and match officials.

There were notable referee and assistant referee exclusions this time around from some high-profile countries, not least the founders of the game – England.

For some strange, but I’m sure explicable reason, not one referee, assistant referee, fourth official, additional assistant referee, video assistant referee or assistant video assistant referee will be from the UK – England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

This is odd because these countries make up 50% of the International Football Association Board. This is the body that decides on new additions or changes to the existing laws of the game.

When Fifa released the names of the 35 referees and 63 assistant referees on March 29, there were gasps of surprise in certain quarters.

From a country that boasts about having the best league in the world – the English Premier League (EPL) – it was surprising that not one of its match officials were included.

I have long held the belief that the EPL guys are not up to scratch and this, I believe, is the result of the very low standard that exists today. The people at the head of Professional Game Match Officials Limited, who are responsible for training, developing and promoting match officials, have to take some of the blame.

The standard of late has been less than what is expected, so this is the inevitable outcome.

No doubt fingers will be pointed at certain individuals within the organisation – remembering that, only eight years ago, Howard Webb took charge of the final in Johannesburg.

It has to be said that Webb didn’t cover himself in glory on that day. He dished out 14 yellow cards, a record for a World Cup final, and failed to issue the ultimate sanction, legitimately in my opinion, to two Dutch players before half-time.

It is also disappointing that only one South African assistant referee, Zakhele Siwela, will be in Moscow. It’s disappointing because former referee Jerome Damon and assistant referee Enock Molefe were at the 2006 and 2010 finals in Germany and South Africa, respectively.

There is a lot of soccer politics that determines who will and will not be on the final list. There is also a lot of lobbying that goes on behind the scenes, and there appears to be a “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” culture.

All that said, I firmly believe that, in any situation, the cream will always rise to the top and, if you are good enough, you will catch the collective eyes of the people who make the final decisions.

This is the first World Cup where the video assistant referee will be used, and the people operating this machine will be based at the International Broadcast Centre in Moscow. It will be interesting to see how this will work.

On a sad note, one referee will not be going, which I mentioned in a previous column.

It’s now public knowledge that Saudi Arabian referee Fahad Al-Mirdasi has been withdrawn for attempting to fix a match at the King Cup final in Saudi Arabia this year. The sad part of this is that the rest of his team (both assistants) have also been withdrawn through no fault of their own other than that they were teamed with him.

I want to wish all the match officials the very best of luck for the tournament.

No doubt the tension and excitement is rising for all participants. The first game on Thursday is between hosts Russia and Saudi Arabia, which will kick off at 5pm South African time.

Happy whistling!

sports@citypress.co.za

Follow me on Twitter @dr_errol

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