Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A Note On The Officials

This World Cup, unfortunately, has been hampered by some very questionable officiating. There is no way around this. In fact, on I even saw a poll asking if the poor officiating has ruined this World Cup and made it the worst edition since the ultra-defensive version of 1990. Hearing and seeing stuff like this just makes my heart sink. And while I certainly don't agree with the sentiment that a batch of questionable calls has ruined things - nay, I've enjoyed it all immensely - I can't deny that a few games were sadly marked forever by referees who found themselves front and center.

Anyway, I mentioned the officiating the other day in here and a reader, Paul, sent me an e-mail that was well-reasoned and eleoquent, and funny, so I figured I'd just share it in its entirety. Paul, I hope you don't mind, but I figured someone other than just myself might get something out of it. Well done.

First off, I'm American and a Liverpool supporter who's been involved with the sport for over 30 years. If it will add to my credibility, I was also US National referee for 5 years. Let me start off by saying I appreciate you for not having a go at the referees with fang tooth and a Welshman's knife as the most of the uneducated media has done. If you are an officianado of the Laws of the Game, you had to see this coming. Most of FIFA's law changes have been designed to (a) promote more scoring, and (b) reduce time wasting to allow for (a). When you add in the human element the gray area for interpretation can get sketchy. But at the World Cup, whether people like it or not, you are dealing with the creme de la creme of officiating from each country. When implementing the Laws of the Game, one needs to understand 4 simple principles, they were written to (a) promote player safety (without the players there is no game), (b) emphasize Fair Play (FIFA's motto), (c) allow the referee to demonstrate common sense (I'll get back to this), and (d) the Laws are written by players for the benefit of players. The referee is there as a neutral, unbiased, third party simply to enforce these Laws. Unfortunately, when reviewing (c) we have seen quite a few travesties throughout the tournament. Yesterday's Italy v. Australia match is a good example. I thought the red was justified because if you analyze the foul, it was careless, wreckless, and was done with excessive force. These are all the basic, common ingredients for a Red Card. Had Ivanov sent off Boulahrouz as he should have for his foul on Ronaldo in the Holland v. Portugal match, you probably wouldn't have had the quantity of yellows. Your commentary remarks were spot on. The referee didn't commit the fouls and was essentially forced into a corner and had no recourse but to come out carding. Most experienced referees have all had matches similar to Holland v. Portugal and vividly remember the entire match for the rest of their lives. When you have two teams who have consistantly demonstrated their preferred styles of play, the Dutch niggly fouling reinforced with a little brutality and the Portuguese (beautiful people as long as they are no where near a football pitch) who are nothing more than Brasilian wannabe's you have a recipe for disaster that I'm not quite sure even Collina could have sorted. It's going to happen and you have to stand there and do the best that you can while hopefully remaining calm like the captain of the Titanic as the ship is going down. From watching the referees, I don't think Ivanov was all that bad. If you watch him closely, you have to admire how he maintained his composure while subliminally realizing he was being dragged into his ultimate slaughter. What folks will winge about is consistency but good refereeing is nothing more that classic operant conditioning, conditioned stimulus - conditioned response. He can't help it if the players from both sides were there to play each other rather than the ball.
I could write more but I'm at work and gotta go. In closing, if that had been me in the center given the same situations, I would have said WTF and thrown one more yellow just to get in the record book. I doubt you'll see another card fest anytime soon.

If you want to blog more send me a note. The bottom line is this has been an exciting tournament and you have to figure the human element in officiating is going to make it continue to be so.

All the best, Paul

Thanks, Paul. And I couldn't agree more. As I said following the Portugal-Holland debacle, what can you expect from a referee when both teams go out on the field and act like petulant twats? That game was headed in that direction from the moment it began. Ivanov was only along for the ride.

Also, I find the constant bitching by both the official media and bloggers alike tiresome. The worst case of this was ESPN announcer J.P. Dellacamera, who one day was bitching about how too many cards were being distributed and how bad the officiating was overall. But then during the Ukraine-Switzerland game, when the ref was letting all kinds of contact go on, rarely blowing his whistle or giving out cards, Dellacamera was bitching - on numerous occasions, mind you - because the ref wasn't calling enough.

It was driving me insane. How do you want it, J.P.? You can't have it both ways. So if you're going to bitch, fine, but pick one side or the other. You can't bitch from both sides of the fence.

Personally, I still think the ref ruined the Italy-Australia game. If it was me, a guy wuld have to be mugged at knifepoint in the box before I'd call for a penalty kick at that late, late stage. But overall, the officiating hasn't been much worse than usual. In any sport, you will always, always have questionable calls. Always. So deal with it and move on.

By the way, Paul, I also would have given out one more card in that Portugal-Holland game to earn the record. Why not?


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