A compelling argument for video referees

I’m probably the biggest proponent of the video ref alive.

We all know how things are. Refs are only human. Expecting them to get all their decisions right the way they have to make them, in a matter of seconds, sometimes even less, while having to run around the field and keep an eye on everything 22 players are doing, expecting this is not reasonable at all, to say the least. It doesn’t help that many players are well aware of the situation and try to make the most of it for themselves and for their teams.

So, no wonder, many times refs get it wrong. Sometimes embarrassingly so. In fact, it would be a miracle if this didn’t happen. On the other hand, players and fans are also only human. They are in it to win, so they won’t like it too much if they loose because of ref errors. Nobody likes it. After all, it’s a sporting contest, the best one is supposed to win. And the one who sometimes screws it, willingly or not, understandably or not, is still the ref. It also doesn’t help that his error is usually almost immediately visible on TV for everyone, except maybe for himself.

As a result, the refs have to put up with more than their fair share of bashing. Deservedly or not, depending on the angle one looks at it from.

Nothing new here. So why did I have to write yet another piece on the subject ?

For one thing, because I think it’s goddamn important. It’s the biggest issue football has had for some time, at least that’s what I think. Sure, people know and talk about it, but they don’t seem to care as much as they should. So maybe it helps a bit if I bring it up, again. In any case it can’t hurt, can it ?

Second, maybe I can bring a fresh angle to it. Something I haven’t heard mentioned in connection to it, and it seems to me it should be.

I’m going to take issue with something opponents of video evidence keep repeating. “No big deal”, they say. “All teams have their ups and downs with ref errors, today you gain from it, tomorrow you loose. So, stop whining and move on.”

Not really. While this is factually true, it misses the point.

Germany, 2 years back. It’s the World Cup semifinal, the hosts are playing Italy. It’s minute 83 or something, the score still 0 – 0. Suddenly, from a play that didn’t look at all dangerous, Cannavaro pushes Podolski down in the box while fighting for a ball in the air. Not much but the referee sees it. He decidedly steps in and blows the whistle. It’s a penalty. – Actually, no. Either making an honest mistake, or maybe having second thoughts about whistling in the first place, he wrongly places the offense outside the box, so he just grants a free kick. One the Germans duly miss. We all know what happens next. The game goes into overtime and the Italians score 2 beautiful goals. Then they go on to become world champions.

So the question naturally arises – what if ? What if the ref hadn’t made that mistake and had granted the penalty ? It’s an error the video ref never would have made. The Germans might have missed, or the Italians might have scored back; while everything is possible, it’s not very likely. The thing to be expected is that the Germans would have won. Maybe then they would have become champions, or maybe not. In any case, Italy could never have.

Sure, maybe Germany had their share of ref mistakes that favored them, in that tournament or in others. As Italy may have had some against them. It doesn’t change the fact that in 06, with correct refereeing, they most likely wouldn’t have been champions.

Now here’s what I think about it. I think that if the world champion is put under so much doubt, then it’s definitely a big deal. It’s definitely not like today you gain, tomorrow you loose, it cancels itself out. Maybe it’s time we stopped a little and had a good look at it.

The author writes at Fair Football.

This article is a submission for the Soccerlens 2008 Writing Competition; to participate, please read the details here. The competition is sponsored by Subside Sports (premier online store for football shirts) and Icons (official signed football jerseys).

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