February 2010

World Cup Refs: Officially Screwed

A couple of days ago, FIFA announced the names of the top 30 referees for the finals in South Africa this June. Amongst the listed are a few names who are no stranger to the controversy spotlight, including Swede Martin Hansson, Englishman Howard Webb, and Swiss official Massimo Busacca. (Alas, in this regard the Yanks are NOT coming – no American officials were selected).

While cooler talk and Internet comments will do nothing less than point out every possible fault of this decision; soccer fans and even sports fans in general need to take a step back and simply calm the hell down.

Recently there has been no shortage of scrutiny bearing down on officiating in leagues around the world and sadly, this will never change. Rather than admit your idol shanked a penalty or hammered a sure goal over the crossbar, your fits and rants of rage will eventually settle upon the most (supposedly) neutral man on the field – the referee.

As I’ve said before, officials will make mistakes. It’s an integral part of the game. There’s no denying that. I realized this further when I participated in a game of soccer in their shoes (or cleats).

I recently started referring intramural soccer games for some extra cash here at Tulane (Who Dat!). The training consisted of teenagers younger than I explaining the rules of the beautiful game from the very beginning. Goal kicks, penalty shots, coin tosses, whistle blowing. From the way they explained it, I came to understand this league as relaxed, fun, and carefree. Ha, I was dead wrong.

The game is extremely fast paced, and throw in the fact you have to be aware of deflections, dangerous elbows, and off the ball shenanigans, Like that ridiculous Guinness commercial, I thought a pay raise was in order after the first half of my first game. There are many aspects of play to take into account all at once and the quick pace of the game doesn’t leave much time to ponder. Calls have to be made fast and authoritative, or the players will lose your trust.

It’s difficult to view the ball from the perfect angle at all times and even more impossible to make a possession decision when four players block your view. Not to mention the constant, and I do mean constant complaining and flat out bitching by players that were supposed to be young adults.

For example, a player was fouled around midfield but was able to keep his balance and shake off the opposing player. With advantage in mind, I watched him weave through the rest of defenders and score a beautiful goal. Instead of celebrating, however, he raced back up the field and scream in my face how I should have called a foul back near the center of the pitch. I could only stare blankly at him. It appeared he was well aware of the advantage rule, but just wanted somebody to yell at.

I’m not even going to get started on the Greek league, whose participants either show up drunk or hungover. Given that, I’ve come to the conclusion that we don’t give enough credit to our officiating crews. The only time we hear about them in the news or media is when they make catastrophic bad calls.

A referee can exhale deeply after the final whistle if no player makes a beeline towards him to scream obscenities and curses. He knows he officiated a good match. High Definition picture quality and Tivo greatly improve the watching capabilities of the viewer, but they are no friend to an official.

Your mistakes will be criticized and analyzed via slow motion replay over and over again. The thoughts are already forming in the heads of those worldwide: “Offsides! Look at that frozen picture of when the ball was kicked” or “It’s obvious it last touched blue when seen at speeds seven times slower than real life!”

As a World Cup official, it is your duty to call a perfectly unbiased game that will ultimately affect the dreams, moods, and wallets of millions of people.

I consider myself lucky that I don’t have to worry about my safety leaving games in South America or dreading turning on the news in England to see the likes of club managers such as Sir Alex Ferguson calling out my fitness. Why would anyone want that responsibility?

Tim Patterson is a staff writer for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at tpatters@tulane.edu.

Tim Patterson

  • It is sad. This is a lose, lose situation for all parties involved, because it is a sure thing that there will be at least one questionable call this World Cup. Being a ref myself, except now while I’m in season, I can sympathize with these guys. They are judged by (like you said) replays, and camera angles. The only other options are to leave it up to the players, which is laughable, and adding extra refs. Now the Europa league has been experimenting with adding a fourth referee for a while with a little bit of success. I say test a little more with Europa and maybe even the Champions League and if it works then why not work it in to future World Cups (2018?) Then again I am not FIFA.