Arbtirary thoughts on nearly everything from a modernist poet, structural mathematician and functional programmer.

Friday, June 18, 2010

A few thoughts on the officiating in the 2010 World Cup...

Edit: Sorry about the lack of linkage... I'm too lazy to dig back up all my sources

I'll try not to bore you too much with sports, but I'm super-stoked for the World Cup, and as always, I have some skepticism about some of the officiating.

I was excited last week when the officials were completely, always right. There were a number of times (in each game) when I said "are you kidding?" and then when watching the replay, I realized that the referee had made the correct call, and in a hard-to-see play. My hat's off to them.

Unfortunately, this hasn't kept up. A few days ago (I've forgotten which game), a goal was scored by a clearly off-sides striker. Why wasn't it called? The assistant referee was 3 or 4 yards up-field from the last defender. This is possibly pardonable in a club match, but not at the international level; especially in the World Cup finals.

Then today, we see an inconsistent, booking-happy referee in the Serbia vs Germany game. I'm really skeptical about most of the cautions he made. Regardless, he was inconsistent the whole match, and clearly was approaching his role with a very different mentality in the second half.

And of course, it'll be a while until people shut up about the USA-Slovenia draw... From the first moment I was questioning the referee-- he was inconsistent, missed some clear infringements, and called some spurious "fouls" where there was little contact, and a clean challenge. There were a number of nearly identical little pushes from behind throughout the match. One earned a caution, 2 (I think) earned the proper free kick they deserve, and at least 2 earned an absent-minded turn of the head.

The first booking had me laughing. Findley's yellow for a "handball" (clearly unintentional and off of a hand in a natural position-- viz, clearly not an infringement according to the Laws of the Game) had me groaning. The third booking was fair. The late-game caution near midfield was ever-so-slightly iffy. Had the referee not lost the benefit of the doubt with sub-par decision, I would hardly even bring it up, but his performance all game was questionable enough that I don't feel bad questioning it.

The booking on Josy's break-away was hardly cautionable-- the only reason I see for a booking was stopping a "clear goal-scoring opportunity", so if there's a booking, the guilty player should be sent off.

Finally, we get to the decision that Americans will be moaning about for months to come-- the spurious infringement during Donovan's (would-be goal-scoring) free-kick. Firstly: the announcers were wrong, it was not off-sides, the referee explicitly said it was for a foul. He did, however refuse to say what sort of foul, and who committed it.* Pictures of the play show what appears to be no less than 4 Slovenian defenders fouling American players, and I've seen only one picture which shows what may be an American foul-- Bocanegra appears to have his arms around a defender (Pecnik). In that picture, it looks to me like Bocanegra is falling, and (instinctively) lifting his arms to grab something. Watching the replay only confirms that pictures can never capture what's going on before set-pieces-- a pair of the apparent Slovenian infringements clearly were not, and I can only find 2 certain infringements: Radosavljevic bear-hugging Bradley and Cesar holding back DeMerit. Also, Bocanegra (as I suspected) is laid out at the beginning of the play (He's the guy rolling around when Edu shoots). I can't tell how legitimate his fall is, but considering Pecnik doesn't come down with him, he is clearly not holding Pecnik.

In any case, no less than 2 fouls in the action of the play are missed by the referee, and we have no idea what it was he did see.

*Two notes: first, it is officially (according to something I read on the internet...) a foul against Edu. Considering he hardly touches the only defender who's near him, the only possible call is offsides. Which the referee denied. And which he clearly wasn't.

Second, apparently this is coyness is within the referee's rights. Even in the post-game report, referees are not required to say (i)who committed an infringement, or (ii)what the infringement was, unless the player is booked.
During the game, fine, but in the post-game report? That is unacceptable, precisely for situations just like this. No one knows what the call was, and apparently, this includes the esteemed Mister Coulibaly. Fans need to know what it was that he saw.

Unlike many (American) fans, I won't say that Coulibaly should be investigated for any sort of gross misconduct-- he was hardly fair to the Slovenians, and this is not the first match where his decisions have been loudly questioned-- and I won't say that FIFA should rectify anything. I also (unlike many fans the world over) won't say that new technology should be used in-game to rectify wrong decisions-- part of the beauty of soccer is the pace, and I'd prefer FIFA avoid bad decisions by being more vigilant about using referees with a history of very controversial decisions (3 of the 5 Africa Cups he's refereed in!), than by slowing the game down. But I will say this:

  • FIFA needs to force referees to say who committed an infringement, and what it was, at least in a post-game report-- allowing the referee to archive these after re-watching the game, so as not to slow down the game.
  • FIFA needs to make public statements whenever a referee consistently makes controversial calls, and whenever a referee makes a highly controversial call. Either defending the referee by saying something along the lines of "You may not agree with his interpretation of the Laws, but we consider them acceptable", or admitting that the referee was wrong. A clear procedure for such situations (for petitioning for a statement, and for the subsequent review.)
  • In the case that the referee is wrong, FIFA needs to administer punative actions. If a player acts in an unacceptable manner, they are typically fined, and often suspended for longer than the one-game suspension that comes with a send-off. Similar measures should be instituted for referees whose decisions are not within acceptable interpretation of the Laws.
Edit (About 20 minutes after posting): It seems FIFA is in fact reviewing Coulibaly's performance, and will likely be unassigned from future matches in the tournament. This is a good first step, but I'll be waiting for a statement from the tournament organizers... I'm also interested in hearing from FIFA regarding the censorship claims

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