To whom much is given, much is expected. The referee is one man judge, jury and executioner. His whistle is both sword and shield. Whatever he does, any decision he takes, or doesn’t. Any movement, any gesture is vital. It inadvertedly favours one side, and is adverse to the other. There are no grey areas with him. It’s either black or white. That is why much is expected of him.
But now, we do not merely expect much. We expect the impossible. We expect perfection. Something no human being has ever achieved. We expect every decision to be right. And when it isn’t, we log onto our Twitter and Facebook accounts and criticize them. Listen to the pundits as they also lay the blame on them. We discuss them for days on end.
Yet we do not realise that we are going about it the wrong way.
Firstly, it should be noted that referees are not robots. They are humans. Man is to error. That is not to say however that he is to constant error. We have the capacity to learn and learn from our mistakes. We also have the capacity to at least ensure that we do not commit blatant errors. What therefore we should expect from referees is that they at least get the big decisions right.
When they don’t however, it is simplistic to berate their performance without considering their limitations.
Referees do not have the luxury of making decisions as we do. If you are sitting in your living room, or in the pub, or standing, you will watch a replay again and again. From different angles. At slower speeds. You will also have the time to think it over. Later on, television pundits will actually freeze the image for you. Draw circles and lines all over the pitch. Zoom in. Make it much more clear for you. Then let you make the decision for yourself – or they’ll make it for you.
Easy, isn’t it? Not for the referee. He is under pressure. The decision has to be made in a split second. In motion. Everything is moving around. Players are shouting in their ears. Fans jeering in the stands. And managers howling from the touchline. Then you expect them to always be perfect.
Then there is the issue of technology. Should it or shouldn’t it be included in the game? Those who matter say no. That the game should retain its human element. That technology will bring about many stoppages.
What they don’t realise is that there is just too much at stake to leave the game to human element. There is too much money in the game. More than there ever has been. It is because of this that furious reactions to wrong decisions arise.
Referees are therefore left in a state where in a technologically advanced world, they are left technologically inept. They don’t have the means to get it right because they aren’t provided with those means. The most they have is a digital watch and an earpiece linking them to their assistant referees. You might as well give them a walkie-talkie.
It is like using a touch screen microwave oven then criticizing Homo erectus for how long his food is taking to cook on fire.
That is thus no blame on the referees themselves. They implement rules that they do not set. The International Football Association Board, and FIFA should be to blame. Instead of tackling issues of importance, they pass rules as absurd as banning snoods and issuing of yellow cards to celebrating with your jersey off, or for over-enthusiastic celebrations.
I seriously fail to see how these either improve or take away from the game.
The people who run the game are mostly people who have never played the game professionally. They thus do not understand what it means to score a last minute equaliser, or a last minute winner. They do not understand that sometimes, the feeling to celebrate with the fans surpasses all other feelings. And that when playing in Moscow, snoods come in handy.
Those who have played professionally and run the game on the other hand, a la Michel Platini, have simply not played the game in these times. They’ve lost touch. Platini, president of UEFA, has been one of the most vehement opposers of technology. He usually says that the controversy that arises from poor refereeing decisions is good for the game.
Well Monsieur Platini, with all due respect, the controversy of the 80’s isn’t the same as that of the 21st Century.
These actions from those who run the game leaves the referees at the mercy of the masses. At the mercy of people who because of social media are not afraid to express their opinions. People who log onto their Facebook and Twitter accounts to update anything from an expletive filled rant to wishing cancer and death upon people.
They leave the referees at the mercy of people who have come to expect the perfectness that technology provides. With the current conditions that referees find themselves in, perfectness is impossible. To find a perfect referee, you would need to travel to Utopia. Or Oz. Visit Wonderland. Plug yourself into the Matrix. Become Don Quixote.
Perfection is impossible in the real world.
And, unless those who can actually do something about it actually do something about it. Unless the margin for error is reduced by making the conditions for refereeing better, we will continue to have poor refereeing decisions – and the wrong way of viewing them.