“You ever reffed a game?”
It’s a regular response when I make one of my many pronouncements on the standard of the elite officials in England at present. Such retorts fill my Twitter timeline, and they are understandable. The answer is yes, but obviously not at anything higher than local league level when there weren’t enough officials to go round. I am aware of the issues further down the ladder. Having to admonish your snarling six foot five brickhouse of a centre-forward after he has ploughed through a less physically gifted opponent is not my idea of unpaid fun.
I am equally aware that issues further down the ladder are not a sensible reason for holding up unnecessarily the steps that will assist those who have reached the pinnacle of their profession, and now have to cope with the degree of scrutiny of every contentious decision they make. Television is currently a loaded weapon blowing up in the face of the men charged with running matches, and those further up the foodchain who are making such a pigs ear of running the game.
Frankly, they are fools to themselves. The day when video evidence is grasped as a friend, rather than an enemy, is surely inevitable. Why would the last major sport to utilise it delay any longer. It was thought that the answer to the issues that were regularly highlighted, as ever more cameras were pointed at top-flight matches, was full-time referees. The truth has been that even if you get middle-aged men more training, get them fitter, and pay them a decent salary, they cannot keep up with finely-tuned athletes who ally speed to an ever increasing level of deceit and cunning.
The introduction of video assistance to aid the officials in making more correct decisions also needs to be augmented with some additional measures to help the faceless committees, charged with reviewing incidents and dealing with appeals, a helping hand. Video evidence alone should reduce incidents being referred for action after the event. Another action that could help diffuse the current unworkable system would be the introduction of sinbins.
Take two big calls this week as an example. Whilst few would argue the red card dished out to Wolves Bassong against Arsenal wasn’t perfectly correct under present guidelines, there was considerably more doubt surrounding the similar punishment of Sean Derry as Ashley Young earned a spot-kick at his expense. Regardless of the rights or wrongs of the current policy, is it really right that a side should face a double or triple penalty for such offences? Penalty conceded, man down, and possibly a goal against. The consequences seem perhaps out of scale when compared to the original offence.
I’m not the first to advocate sinbins, but in situations such as this they would seem to offer a common-sense alternative. I don’t want to cloud the water with a discussion of intent at this point, but it seems to me that offences resulting in penalties are rarely as threatening to life and limb as some of the challenges that occur outside the box. Regardless of where it occurs, serious foul play warrants a red card. However, a disputed trip in the box, a debatable handball as well, might more reasonably be punished with a ten or fifteen minute spell on the benches. Three sinbinnings (I’ve invented a word there I think) can attract the same additional reprimand as five bookings?
Doubtless some will point out the disadvantages of the measures I discuss above, and that’s fine. What I do know is that the debate needs to happen, and action needs to be taken soon. The officiating and administrative disasters of the past week (years I would argue) have added to the urgency with which those charged with running our game give real assistance, rather than damaging blind support, to our officials.
Please FA, UEFA, and FIFA, don’t wait to be dragged kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century. The last sport to grasp the advantages of modern technology is now too big to continue being run in such an amateurish fashion.
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