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Before the Palace game, Untold ran an article under the heading “Crystal Palace v Arsenal: a match overseen by a home team referee.” And what happened in the game led me to consider the fact that if a referee could be considered “home-biased,” then tweaks in the application of the rules have made it easier for referees to influence matches.
We have been looking at this issue for some time: indeed the article Just how much are Premier League referees biased in favour of home teams dealt with this directly using data from Who Scored.
However, the basis of this piece stems from the fact that the PGMO which runs refereeing in Premier League games, has in its wisdom, decided to clamp down on ‘technical’ rule breaches, such as time-wasting and waving imaginary cards, whilst at the same time drawing back on punishing the physical approach, under the guise of ‘letting the game flow’.
Now before I proceed I need to highlight a couple of reasons why I believe that the influencing of the result of football matches by the officials is so easy, and how it can be done, on the face of it at least, without actually cheating.
And of course to deal with this, first I have to ask the question, “is it actually without cheating?” I don’t think so. Indeed this is why I have always referred to what is going on as ‘Cheating Without Cheating.”
The two factors in football that I believe facilitate this cheating without cheating are:
1: The sheer quantity of subjective decisions.
2: The fact that a victory by ONE goal is easily the most common result.
Put those two factors together and you can see just how easily a game can be influenced by the officials. In fact, it is probably safe to say there is no other game on earth that can be so easily influenced by the officials.
My issue has always been with the ‘subjectivity’ of decisions regarding, most commonly, what is and isn’t a ‘foul’. And on the back of that, what is and isn’t a Yellow card, a Red card, or a penalty? All these calls, or at least a vast majority of them, are to some degree ‘subjective’ calls by the referee. Was it a foul? Was it a yellow? Was it a Red?
Now this is the crux of my argument over the years: the subjectivity of every one of these calls means the referee can never actually be wrong. Or right. It’s just a matter of opinion. So for argument’s sake, let’s say we have a dozen of these subjective calls in a match. A third of the decisions are 40/60, a third 50/50, and a third 60/40.
Now if you take each one on an individual basis it would be hard to criticize the referee. After all 40/60, 50/50, 60/40, we could each of us have called them either way. But what if every one of those subjective calls went the way of one side? What then? Is that cheating? Is that bias?
I think that if a whole series of calls goes for one team and against another then that is highly suggestive that it is, indeed, bias. And that’s where I think referees can “Cheat without Cheating”.
Now the reason for this article is that I believe these tweaks have made it far EASIER this season, for referees to influence the outcome of football matches.
No matter whether a player has committed five fouls already, the referee is ‘letting the game flow’. No matter if the goalkeeper wipes out the forward. But woe betide the manager who gets upset that neither the referee nor VAR does anything about such incidents. Arteta and O’Neil both get yellow cards
All that has happened as a result of these most recent tweaks, is that referees have been given latitude to book a player for holding the ball for eight seconds, to send him off for touching an opponent, whilst allowing players persistently to foul or a keeper to wipe out a striker.
And to compound the issue, as far as SKY are concerned, all’s well in the world, well as long as it’s Arsenal’s players sent off anyway. Anything that suggested otherwise would of course be anathema to the broadcasters, because the moment the TV audience begins to lose faith in the referees, that is the moment when the TV audience starts to crumble.
There is of course an explanation for the yellow card for holding the ball for eight seconds before a throw-in, and that is that the previous player held it for longer, and the two times can be added together. But if that is what the PGMO wants in the rules, that is what the rule ought to say, and at the moment it does not. The referee might argue that the two Arsenal players colluded to waste time, but if so, surely the one who wasted the most time should be punished. As we can see, it quickly gets very messy.
And this is the problem because up to this point, the aim has been that the laws of the game are clear and fixed. Now they are being tweaked and opened up to referee interpretation on a much grander scale than ever before.
Previously a typical problem for the referee was a) Was that a foul and b) Did it happen within the lines of the penalty area? Yes to both means a penalty.
Now the situation is that either eight seconds to take a throw-in counts as deliberate time wasting, or one player preparing to take a throw-in but then passing the ball to another to undertake the throw, is time wasting. But we are not sure which (or is it both?) – and that is the problem.
If this really is a PGMO-wide decision, the clubs and through them the players need clear information that either the eight-second throw-in or the passing of the ball to another player to take the throw, now counts as an offense punishable by a yellow card, and we need to be assured that ALL REFEREES are now implementing this rule.
For without that, the cries of “Referee bias” will, quite justifiably grow and grow, and faith in PGMO, already at rock bottom, will decline further (if that is at all possible).
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