Friday, 2 November 2012

The Referee Conundrum (And the Solution)

by Neil Chhabda

Man Utd's Man of the Match (left)

Last weekend, a blockbuster Sunday of entertainment in the Premier League was marred by a few controversial decisions by referees.  The first decision was to rule Luis Suarez offside after he had scored the winning goal in the Merseyside Derby in the 94th minute. Every replay showed he was on-side and that the decision was made after he had started to celebrate and after Sylvain Dystin had influenced the linesman. The second decision was to send off Fernando Torres after he had allegedly dived, reducing Chelsea to 9 men. Replays showed that the defender had gotten none of the ball and had indeed made contact. While Chelsea were down to 10 men before the second red-card, they had good momentum, were simply dominating a lacklustre Manchester United side and were playing at home. This game could have gone either way and it is more likely than not that Chelsea would win.
These poor judgments come during an interesting debate about diving and referee decisions. A year or two ago, the idea of having goal-line technology was completely rejected by FIFA. Now, however, the system is being tested and will eventually be implemented. Many are also claiming that diving is a big issue. This debate is particularly centred around Luis Suarez who has often been criticized for diving unnecessarily to win free-kicks or penalties. Despite one or two dives this season, Suarez has generally been treated unfairly by referees. Every time he goes down inside or near the box, the referees don’t give fouls, even though replays show that they are as clear as day. In the modern game, things happen too quickly for the referees to judge or see, despite their experience. Howard Webb, who refereed the World Cup 2010 final, has made some appalling judgements. And, more recently, Mark Clattenburg has been on people who “dive” and has gotten his cards out too quickly. Even the linesmen are struggling. Luis Suarez was evidently on-side and Javier Hernandez’ winning goal in the Chelsea-Manchester United game was offside --- although it could be argued that the latter was too hard to see. Therefore I’m forced to ask the question: What is the point of referees when they can’t make crucial decisions and simply can’t see some events?
Okay. Perhaps I’m being a bit silly by suggesting that referees should be taken out of the game, but the fact of the matter is the referees are no longer always right and get the majority of important or challenging decisions wrong. This cannot go one and a change is desperately needed. I believe that this change could come in the form of one or two very straightforward rules. These would be very similar to, if the not the same as, the Hawkeye rules in tennis. They would simply state that, if a team wishes, they can appeal a decision and a ‘third-umpire’, similar to the one in cricket can make a decision based on several slow-motion replays. Like tennis, each team would have a set number of ‘challenges’. These would be limited to 3-5 so that every single decision isn’t challenged.
In my opinion, this would be a practical and simple solution. Most stadiums wouldn’t need to invest in any new cameras as the ones they already have cover all angles (especially in the Premier League), and the referees and linesman can keep doing their jobs. Some may argue that this would kill the flow of the game and destroy the momentum that a team might have, but this is the exact same reason that FIFA used against goal-line technology.  They were forced to implement that because it is better for the sport and because it prevents referees from getting abuse when they get a decision wrong. This solution would be perfect.
Conclusively, the pace and ferocity of modern-day, top-flight football has made it almost impossible for officials to correctly make vital and decisive calls. In my opinion, the only solution to this problem is to integrate cameras into the game so that decisions can be challenged and corrected if they are proven wrong. This would be better for the sport as it would ensure that games make the headlines for the right reasons and would take pressure off referees.

Read George Kimber-Sweatman's article, Football Refereeing: A Thankless Task?


  1. Disagree with most of that.
    To suggest that Suarez's 'winner' was disallowed after the assistant had been "influenced by Sylvain Distin" is unjustified and no assistant would reach the Premier League if they were influenced by players and/or supporters.
    Goalline technology was originally rejected by FIFA because it was not available in a form which provided instant information on whether the ball had fully crossed the goalline or not. Now the technology has developed and is now available instantly and thus is being implemented in the near future. There is no way that technology can be used for all decisions because not only would it take a long time to gather and review all the evidence, but also most fouls are down to personal opinion. Just because the "third umpire" has a different opinion on the incident to the referee who made the original decision, it doesn't mean that he/she is correct just because they have seen it via replay. It simply would not work.
    To suggest that Luis Suarez does not receive any decisions in his favour is also completely unfair.
    Howard Webb has made which "appalling judgements" exactly?
    Referees were never "always right" and never will be - they are human beings and are not perfect and should not be expected to be.

    1. You clearly have some strong opinions and that's to be expected after those games. On 'Match of the Day' on BBC 1, the hosts identified, using replays that the referee had not called Suarez off-side until after about 3 seconds when he had started celebrating. They also showed Sylvain Dystin shouting at the linesman at this moment. Perhaps goal line technology wasn't as advanced as it is now, but the hawk-eye system has existed since 1999 and replays can also show in most cases of the ball has crossed the line, an example of this is the England-Germany game in 2010. I agree that to an extent that there will always be some debate over certain fouls and dives, but in the analysis of certain games, former players and managers unanimously agree over what is a foul or dive on programs such as 'Match of the Day' and during games on Sky Sports. You also argue that it might take some time to gather evidence, but in all games in the top-flight, including those at smaller teams such as Wigan, replays from around 5 different camera angles are shown only seconds after a goal is scored or a yellow or red card has been produced. Plus, I also argue that the number of "challenges" should be limited so that the excitement and momentum of the game is not ruined.
      Luis Suarez may not be the most likable of players but he is often, not always treated unfairly by referees. Yes he has dived a couple of times, but for the most part, referees have been against him this season. He supposedly dived against team Reading and West Brom, although every replays showed that both incidents were undoubtedly fouls. And Howard Webb has had his fair share of shockers. In the World Cup Final of 2010, Nigel De Jong Kicked Xabi Alonso in the chest and was only yellow carded. Here's the link . Here's another link to a Howard Webb mistake . And if you type in "Howard Webb Mistake" into Google, you get several links to videos, articles and forums which all show his errors. Thank you for reading the article.

  2. Well that may be the case and the decision may have been delayed, but to suggest that the assistant practically 'cheated' and gave the decision just because Distin shouted at him questions the integrity of the assistant, which is a very serious allegation. Why go down that route rather than a (perhaps less controversial and interesting) straightforward route of believing that he was making sure he was 100% in his own mind of his decision before raising his flag to disallow what would have been a crucial goal. I believe that there is no way that any official would be elevated to Premier League level if they were able to be influenced so easily - maybe you don't have as much faith in the system as I do!
    Yes, it has been possible for years to see whether the ball has crossed the line with replays, but the whole point is that the decision has to be instant - that's the reason for the delay to now in introducing the technology.
    There is no way that decisions on fouls can be instant unless made by an on-field referee. Simple. And as I said, it's down to opinions. You could have 20 people in a room with 19 agreeing with a decision but there will always be someone who disagrees and if that one person is the person reviewing the decision then imagine the uproar!
    Yes, Howard Webb has made some mistakes, as have all the officials, but the percentage of decisions which are correct is well within the 90s - I think 97% - it's just the mistakes that get highlighted. Players will make a lot more mistakes each in a match than the match officials. You're not suggesting that they're replaced by perfect robots so wby should the referees be?!


Comments with names are more likely to be published.