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When Will Soccer Officiating Get With the Times?

Sunday’s refereeing blunders, following the many glaring group stage errors, have reignited a debate over changing the sport’s rules. Some favor video replay, some favor an additional referee who would only monitor each goal area, while others would prefer a sensor-system for goals similar to that used in hockey. Of all the ideas, the addition of another referee seems to have the most realistic chance as it has already been implemented on an experimental basis in competitions like this past season’s Europa League.

However, the debate should not obscure the fact that goals like Frank Lampard’s simply have to be called correctly by the referees on the pitch. There were four eyes directly on the action, those of referee Jorge Larrionda and those of assistant Mauricio Espinosa. How did both these men blow the call? Are the assistants too timid to voice their opinion over the headsets (technology!) they use to communicate with each other? An additional referee stationed behind the goal may well have called Lampard’s call correctly, but keep in mind again that two were already watching the play today and still couldn’t get it right.

Moreover, before changing the rules, shouldn’t Fifa ensure that only the best of the best get to referee World Cup matches? If they are only using the best of the best then explain how Larrionda, who was suspended for six months for “irregularities” and forced to bow out of the 2002 World Cup, is allowed to referee in the most important tournament there is? Explain how referee Martin Hansson, he who allowed Thierry Henry’s handball goal, is even in South Africa working as a fourth official and on the list of reserve referees. Get the referee selection right, then worry about rule changes.

Of course, we may be asking too much of referees to make such crucial decisions when the game is faster than ever. All the more reason to give them better tools to work with. The traditionalists may bemoan any tinkering whatsoever. But then again, cricketrugby and tennis, all international sports with traditions, history, and conventionality that rival football, have all introduced technology to improve the chance that a call is made correctly.

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  1. Eious

    June 29, 2010 at 5:59 pm

    Thankfully, the entire world sees how much of a joke the game is with such SERIOUS blunders continuing to go unchecked

    At some point, a MAJOR World Cup game will go hurt by this and everyone will want change

  2. coachie ballgames

    June 29, 2010 at 3:48 pm

    and Ned D. is right, let’s not lose focus of what’s most important, getting the call right so that we optimize the chance of seeing the best game on the biggest stage. Because the current system is flawed, all the talk of bad calls overshadows all the good in the game and that’s not right.

  3. coachie ballgames

    June 29, 2010 at 3:44 pm

    I’m not asking that he be punished for life, simply that he not be allowed to work at the World Cup. Why do we expect the best players but not the best refs? This ref’s past is severely bad enough to warrant exclusion from the most important tournament of all.

  4. Pakapala

    June 29, 2010 at 12:14 pm

    To be fair to the referee and his linesman, from their POV it was hard to tell whether the ball went over the line or not. Let’s not forget that.

    As far as referees being given second chances, I see nothing wrong with that. The referees have to and do get graded for their match performance; they get “punished” for their bad decisions, but are allowed (as they should be) to redeemed themselves after their punishment. To ask for them to be punished for life because they make human errors would be harsh.

  5. Poker Rakeback

    June 29, 2010 at 12:20 am

    Agree with Gary, I am not in favour of using technology for anything other than whether the ball is over the goal line or not. Offside decisions should remain in the hands of the linesman, if you start opening up technology to offside decisions we’ll be doing it for throw-ins and corner kicks soon and that will be a shambles

  6. Gary

    June 28, 2010 at 11:24 pm

    There’s the ‘can of worms’ argument: where do you draw the line w/ the technology in such a way that the flow and ‘human element’ of the game are preserved? I agree w/ the goal line referees but am very skeptical of anything beyond that. There is so much subject to interpretation, even w/ video replay.

    One development which I’ve heard suggested and support is the use of replays- after the match- to penalize players for diving. If players know that they can be posthumously penalized and/or suspended for diving they would be far less likely to engage in the type of gamesmanship that gets such a bad rap and truly does a disservice to the game’s newcomers.
    Technology for goals; but that’s as far as I’d go for in-game technology.
    Offsides calls must remain in the hands of the referees. If you could review one offside play then you would have to review them all. For every glaringly obvious violation there are a dozen closer calls that must be left to real-time decision making on the part of linesmen. Should the world’s most open and exciting game be fractured by reviews? Become inundated with stoppages for the sake of making sure that every call is absolutely correct? Certainly not.
    Anyone who can definitively and absolutely draw the line of which elements of the game should and should not be subject to review should pipe-up; otherwise, get used to it. The beautiful game is worth the occasional disappointment for the sake of retaining it’s beauty. In my humble opinion.

    • Brian

      June 28, 2010 at 11:51 pm

      You don’t have to review every offside. Just the ones that lead to an actual goal scored. Those are the only cases that really matter the most.

      There is no need for additional stoppages if you design the system right. Video replays should only be used if it provides conclusive proof and only in cases that affect goals and penalty kicks. These events already have major stoppages in time because the players argue with the refs.

      • Ned D.

        June 29, 2010 at 11:48 am

        I agree with Brian. Video replay/review is only necessary for goals like Frank Lampard’s (is it over the line?) and for close offsides plays that lead to goals. Each goal is so important to the game that it is worth the two or three minute delay. I think the players would agree. How about the supporters? You work your a*& off for four years to get ready for the cup (players and supporters) and then you can’t wait two or three minutes for a correct call?!? B-%#it. The two or three minutes will allow the players to put some more olive oil in their manes, and for the supporters to pi$@ out some of their Guinness.

        Another good point by Brian: why would I rather wait 2-3 minutes while annoying f’ing Christiano Ronaldo fakes an injury than wait while the ref correctly sorts out whether the ONLY thing that ACTUALLY MATTERS in the game happened or NOT??!!!! Jeesus H Christ.

      • hank

        June 29, 2010 at 1:25 pm

        “Those are the only cases that really matter the most.” The doesn’t really hold water – an incorrect offsides decision that prevents a goal, is as important as incorrect offsides decision that allows one. The difference is that only the latter is more easily addressed by instant replay, but there in lies the slippery slope…

        • Ned D.

          June 29, 2010 at 6:27 pm

          True, I agree. That’s where players will need to adjust. When the referee (erroneously or not) raises his flag for offsides, the players must continue playing. If the ensuing play results in a goal, review it. If not, play on. Plus, there may need to pay an NFL-type red flag thingie. Again, I am all for LIMITED replay, but something has to be done.

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