Monday, November 22, 2010

Why Scottish Referees are going French.

Refereeing standards, a topic you could debate ad infinitum and one that in my view will never truly be remedied until FIFA embraces the technological possibilities that all other sports are doing so successfully.

But Sacre Bleu! Referees in Scotland have taken dramatic action that will have their counterparts in Ligue Une scratching their heads and thinking 'why didn't we think of that?' Yes indeed, the whistlers are going on strike.

Abusing the officials at football matches is de rigueur regardless of their actual performance. In Scotland, the fans of the Super Hoops have long held beliefs that the refs are controlled by the Powers of Evil within Ibrox where weekly meetings with the refs are held involving sacrifice and black magic all to make sure that Celtic finish second every season. David Murray is rumoured to hold so much power that not only can he walk again at these meetings he can even fly around the room.

There is no doubt that the referees in Scotland have got themselves in one hell of a mess with the situation surrounding the issue with Celtic who for once have adequate grounds for their grievance. On this occasion however, it appears that things have spilled way over the normal abuse and have started to have an effect on the refs’ lives away from football with fans targeting their employers and families, this is clearly not right and the culprits should be found and tortured.

Refereeing of any sport is incredibly difficult. An ex colleague of mine and a cricketing nut, tried his hand at umpiring village cricket (nice Sunday afternoon gentle village cricket, morris dancers at the side of the pitch, people in bath chairs and tartan blankets) and after one match said ‘never again’. It was apparently impossibly fast and was not helped by all the players constantly screaming at you to give the decision in their favour.

These however are ‘professional’ referees, they are paid for what they do so by implication they should be competent at it. I also think referees do themselves no favours by their almost complete shelter from the media on the whole. I can remember very few occasions where a referee afterwards said ‘Sorry’ or ‘I got that wrong’. That’s not to say it doesn’t happen but generally they sit in Ivory Towers with managers and players being fined anytime they open their mouths to complain even though in many cases they are justified.

To my mind the bulk of the problems could be solved very simply with video technology. Nearly every other major sport has integrated it successfully and there is no reason to suggest football would do otherwise. The arguments about it disrupting the flow of the game are unfounded. Other sports have proved it can be done quickly and accurately. Obviously football needs some leeway for interpretation but for instances such as the ball crossing the line, fouls inside or outside the box, these matters could be settled quickly and to everyone’s satisfaction. It is nonsensical to have games with fifty odd TV cameras and expect one whistler with one pair of eyes and a split second to react to be as accurate as those cameras, yet those are the standards he is now judged by. American football has as many umpires as players I think (around three hundred on each side at any given time) and they still regularly need TV replays. Tennis, rugby, formula one, cricket, they are all using it successfully. It is not meant to replace the referee, it is meant to be a tool for him to arrive at the correct decision where there is doubt.

There has to be a line draw at some stage regarding the abuse of officials. The powers that be however could do much to help themselves by much improving their interaction with the teams and the media and the dinosaur that is Sepp Blatter could solve the majority of the problems by doing what every other sport has done, allow the use of technology. Just ask Frank Lampard what he thought after the Germany game, I’m sure he’d agree.