The refereeing

Warning: the following post is a rant. 

There has to be a point where the collective ineptitude of match officials in clutch moments will force FIFA into action. Today’s World Cup fixtures show once again that the game sometimes goes too fast for certain referees. This is a fact. This is beyond debate. The only question that remains is whether FIFA, an organization that sometimes makes Major League Baseball seem as though they are at the avant-garde of rulemaking innovation, is willing to do anything about it.

Goal line technology is here; it should have been since about 1993. It was about time, and it isn’t enough. FIFA needs to adopt the coach’s challenge. Now. There is no excuse not do it.

06/24/2014, exhibit A: Italy vs Uruguay. OK, the Marchisio red card is a strict application of the studs-up rule, but I suppose, since it is the rule, it could be defended. However, there is no excuse for Luis Suarez being allowed to stay in the game after going Mike Tyson on Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini. If the referee didn’t see it, there should be a way for him to rectify his mistake. Not to give the referee the chance to set things right is the only thing more unacceptable than the mistake itself.

06/24/2014, exhibit B: Greece’s penalty against Côte d’Ivoire. Kudos to the Greeks for the victory and their attempts to be positive. They played well enough to go through, in today’s game at least, and we can’t deny that. That said, there is no justification for not overturning a penalty awarded because the Greek striker Samaras basically kicks the Ivorian player Sio then drops to the floor. Especially considering this happened in the game’s closing moments.

Meanwhile, the NFL has had the coach’s challenge for years. The CFL has it as well, and added to it this year by introducing the right to challenge pass interference calls, so important to the outcome of football games. This is potentially ground-breaking progress. And no, allowing coaches to challenge referees’ calls hasn’t “slowed down” games or made them unwatchable. The limits on the amount of challenges that coaches get to call allow the NFL and the CFL to sidestep these pitfalls.

What should these challenge possibilities include? Everything. I don’t care if you challenge called or uncalled penalties, offsides, handballs, foul throws, the goalie stepping out of the box with the ball in his hands, you name it. All of it should be fair game. And if coaches want to burn challenges on silly stuff, then let them sulk when they lose on a goal by an offside striker that went unchallenged because they wasted their challenges on other calls. In fact, I myself quite like the idea of placing extra emphasis on the importance of coaching by adding the dimension of challenge management.

There is no argument, not a valid one anyway, to justify the status quo in soccer with regards to officials’ review. We’ve been spoiled with a wonderful World Cup, with goals coming in spades (unlike in the borderline-unwatchable South-African tournament of 2010), at the best of times from great play and at worst from sometimes-dodgy defence. The only blight on it has been officiating of such atrocity that it has affected the outcome of games. This is not to take away from the performances of teams that often deserved victory. Uruguay were the more enterprising team today against Italy, the same can be said of the Greeks in their game against the Ivorians, and of Brazil against Croatia in the opener.

This fact notwithstanding, the bogus idea that there is something noble, let alone worth preserving, about human error dictating the outcome of games would be the most incomprehensible of the soccer universe were it not overshadowed by the puzzling fact that many intelligent people in the soccer world vouch for it. That the likes of Michel Platini and Lilian Thuram fought against the arrival of goal-line technology and still would resist the implementation of the coach’s challenge is so inexplicable that it defies my capacity to understand it. That being said, while these obviously smart people should know better, soccer cannot afford to wait for them to wake up and smell the roses. Its integrity off the pitch has validly been brought into question countless times before. Its integrity on the pitch could be spared the same treatment, with a little bit of will.

Your move, FIFA.


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