Referee rewind?

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During the match on Saturday March 21 between Manchester City FC and West Bromwich Albion FC, the referee dismissed Gareth McAuley of West Brom for a foul committed by his team mate, Craig Dawson. A classic case of mistaken identity. Such a mistake should be extremely rare amid the riches of the Barclays Premier League. However, just a month previously, John O’Shea of Sunderland was sent off instead of fellow player, Wes Brown. These incidents came a year after Kieran Gibbs was dismissed for Arsenal, following a clear handball by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Mistaken identity is one thing, but too often officials have been found guilty of ruining big matches by awarding or denying penalties, showing or not showing red cards, and allowing or disallowing controversial offside goals.

Incidents like this can be found beyond the Barclays Premier League, beyond the football league and into worldwide football. Cast your mind back to the 2014 FIFA World Cup, when, in the opening match Croatia had a perfectly legitimate goal deemed offside, before a soft penalty was awarded to Brazil, who then went on to win the match. The officiating incompetence is bringing a blight on the game, and is too often the subject of punditry analysis, rather than footballing flair.

Sympathy has to be given to the officials though. With the game moving at such a pace and with the offside rule changing more times than Lancastrian weather, then it’s understandable that wrong offside calls are made. With players feigning injury and going down like they’ve been shot, it’s understandable that wrong penalty calls are made. Therefore, a simple question is posed: do referees need help?

It seems strange that the global, multi-million pound business that is football, is lacking behind less affluent sports such as tennis, rugby and even cricket in the use of technology to aid in decision making.

Since the introduction of the Hawk-Eye system in tennis, there have been far fewer wrong calls, and it allows players to appeal decisions which they feel are wrong. This leads to a fairer, more friendly game, and we no longer see any McEnroe type outbursts stating that the umpire ‘cannot be serious’. Similarly in Rugby, controversial tries are reviewed by the video referee before the final call is made. This system helped during the Scotland and Wales’ recent Six Nations match, when, in the 59th minute, Wales player Liam Williams had a try disallowed for obstruction by the Television Match Official (TMO). Wales did go on to win the match, but this decision allowed Scotland to stay in the match and avoided the controversy that awarding the try would have created.

Similarly, during the cricket world cup, the video referee has been called upon numerous times to help umpires call LBW’s and run outs. This again leads to fair dismissal of batsmen and leading to a (hopefully) uncontroversial World Cup, where cricket is the main subject of the post-game analysis.

30 Second Call-back

So, in a range of sports, video refereeing is vitally important. When are FIFA going to realise that it is needed as soon as possible in football?

Many current managers will agree that it is needed. Current West Brom manager Tony Pulis said in his post-match interview following the FA Cup defeat to Aston Villa -a match in which Claudio Yacob was controversially dismissed for the Baggies – that “managers should be allowed to appeal yellow cards.” This was said because a straight red card is allowed to be appealed with the FA, but two yellows are not. Pulis’ anger at officials was increased following McAuley’s dismissal against Man City. First of all, because it was Craig Dawson who made the challenge and second of all, it may not have even been a red card challenge, as McAuley was arguably a covering defender.

‘If we can help referees with a 30-second call-back option, twice a game, it would stop us talking about them’ stated Pulis.

This would be a similar concept to that which has worked so successfully in Tennis, Cricket and Rugby.

Money Talks

The English FA has recently signed a £425 million TV deal, which according to their website, will ‘allow for greater reinvestment into the game’. Their website also states that it already invests £60 million a year back into the game. This new TV deal should allow this £60 million figure to increase, and this increase should be spent on technology to help referees, by allowing video playback on certain decisions, subsequently saving money on referee training costs, as the ref’s will be supported by the videos.

In fact, it shouldn’t be down to the FA. It should be down to the world’s footballing governing body, FIFA.

It has taken this long for FIFA to listen to the fans about the importance of goal line technology. The defining moment had to come at grandest showcase of them all, the infamous Frank Lampard goal that never was during the 2010 Football World Cup, highlighting the importance of such technology. Let’s hope FIFA take a proactive approach now and act early, well, early enough to avoid another worldwide embarrassment.

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