Sunday, April 3, 2011

Respect?

So Richard Scudamore and the Premier League have spoken. There is going to be a crackdown on the 'unnacceptable' behaviour of both players and managers toward referees, all we can say is about time. This years' respect campaign is in tatters with Ferguson in particular utterly unrepentant. The question however will be whether the administrators are willing to actually show any teeth - we on this blog shan't hold our breath. Campaigns are also not really the solution.

Referees have always been targets in football, if not from a Fergie or a John Terry then from the stands, they have been seen as fair game and the introduction several years back of the fourth official has only given everyone even more incentive to do so.

Referees are not perfect and nor can they be expected to be - in any sport . Where football referees differ in terms of what they must endure comes from the traditional more tribal roots of the sport, hatred and abuse from the stands being the norm. The second difference is that modern football enjoys more television coverage than ever with cameras from almost every conceivable angle showing every instant in minute detail, judging those referees whilst simultaneously not giving them any access to that same technology when making their on pitch calls.

The behaviour of players toward the referees has been a problem for sometime but what is beginning to become more and more an issue is the behaviour of managers toward the officials. What cannot be ignored is the link between this behaviour and the increased intrusion of the media. Referees are now subject to the most incredible scrutiny with replays available instantly showing any incorrect decisions yet against this they are offered no protection from FIFA.

Coverage of modern football allows, in fact demands instant interviews with the protagonists, both players and managers. Players do not typically get fired because of results but managers certainly do and therefore any contentious decisions which are seen as result changers will be met with both barrels by aggrieved managers having a live microphone thrust in their faces five minutes after the final whistle.

FIFA and the national associations get rich from television rights, football produces great drama and the reactions of the managers pitch side contributes much to that. However, whilst providing this entertainment these same people open themselves up to all manner of disciplinary action in most cases by simply stating how they feel and how they saw a particular incident. For the matter to be remedied to any satisfaction, the issue needs to become infinitely more balanced. Several steps would solve the issue both quickly and completely.

Firstly, video technology can no longer be ignored. It has been integrated successfully into all manner of sports including rugby, tennis, cricket and American Football. Coincidentally all of these sports generally treat the officials with a large amount of respect.

FIFA should at the same time introduce a simple rule where the only player on the pitch who can approach the referee or the linesman be the the team captain. This is an idea also mooted by the legendary BBC broadcaster John Motson. A month or two of chaos in terms of yellow and red cards would be a small price to pay for long term behaviour on the football pitch more akin to what we see on the rugby pitch, the players would quickly learn to respect the rules.

The third piece to what is not a complicated puzzle is the accountability of referees. It is almost as if FIFA do not wish to potentially embarrass their officials by making them accountable for their decisions to the media. If video technology were available then there should be little need for match officials to be subject to such vilification as they are now. That being the case, officials could be made available for post match interviews in the same way that the players and managers are. Giving referees the chance to explain their reasoning and decision process would do much to defuse the anger and mistrust that is arising on a weekly basis.

There can be no defence for the likes of Ferguson recently and Mourino many years back at half time in Chelsea's game at the Nou Camp questioning the integrity of referees. Now whilst they should be sanctioned accordingly for that, it seems that the solution for many of the problems actually lie with the administrators. Campaigns are all very nice and they make for good sound bites but the use of technology and access to referees after matches would alleviate the problems with the minimum of fuss - no nonsense.