By Walter Broeckx
Is football still a sport?
That is a question I asked myself this weekend. It was after I had finished my own game. And for a few reasons I now am working as an assistant referee, and well must say I enjoy doing it and according to the game assessors and my promotions I’m not that bad at it.
Last weekend I had a game together with an excellent ref and another excellent assistant on the other side (we form a team each week so I know he is really good and young). And well sometimes you have such games. Two teams near the top of their division, on a good field, in excellent conditions. Two teams trying to play a technical game. And a referee team that was just excellent on the day. A draw after 90 minutes and both teams hugging each other and hugging the referee and assistants.
After the game in the dressing room we talked about the game of course and it struck us that as well me and the other assistant and the ref couldn’t remember a game with that many offside decisions. My right arm was painful from raising the flag all the time. Both teams playing with a striker who was always running just on/offside so it was a question of being very alert.
But the decisions were always correct and greeted with acceptance from attackers. No arms waving around, no dissent. The players just felt that we were doing a great job. The wait and see was done almost to perfection. Thumps up on many occasions from both teams. If we would have been footballers we would have felt like we had scored a hattrick. After such a game you really feel great as a ref or assistant.
What also struck me was that the players almost never made wrong claims. How many times do we see football players kicking the ball out of play and then raising their arm to claim the ball was theirs to throw in? We don’t accept diving to win a penalty and call it cheating. But claiming the ball for a throw in that a player has kicked out …isn’t that also a form of cheating?
Well it is. Players do this to get the decision going their way. One could say that diving for a penalty is far worse than making a false claim for a throw in. But making a false claim is something that is bad for the game.
I see it all the time at the Emirates when the ball goes out of play. And both attacker and defender claiming the ball by raising their arms…one of them is wrong or is …trying to cheat. And from a distance you cannot say who is right or wrong.
It is cheating because the players know damn well who was the last one to touch it. And yet the player who played the ball out will claim it without hesitation. The problem for the assistant or ref is that when he makes a decision (and let us assume it is the correct decision as he also can make a mistake) half of the crowd will not believe it. The reason is that because of their ‘own’ player claiming the ball, the decision should go to ‘our’ team. Because we believe our player more than the opponent and more than the ref or assistant.
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So making a false claim is discrediting the assistant/ref his decision. I also do wonder why do players feel the need to claim the ball? They are out there to play football. The ref and his assistants are out there to decide who gets the ball when it goes out of play. So no need for a the players to raise their arms to claim a throw. If they really want to decide who should get the throw then…they should become a ref or assistant themselves. Then they wouldn’t have to claim anything any more, then they could make the correct (hopefully) decision themselves.
The same things happens when a player goes alone on goal. The defenders always raise their arm to claim an offside. That way they try to put pressure on the assistant to give it. And the crowd will believe their defenders of course. Not that blind assistant on the line who doesn’t see the offside.
Now you could say: well all that claiming isn’t that bad you know. It doesn’t harm anyone. Well as just explained: it does harm the credibility of the ref and his assistants. When a decision is wrong, it is wrong and such a thing shouldn’t happen. I am the first to say that wrong calls should be corrected. But this isn’t about wrong calls. Even the good calls are turned in to suspicious calls because of the players claiming it the other way.
We all want clean football. Clean football with no diving, no cheating. I also want clean football with no wrong decisions from the referees. Certainly no cheating from the referee his part.
But if we want to reach such a game each one has to contribute to it. The referees have to be unbiased and correct. And we can argue that this isn’t always the case and I have proposed a few times how we can improve this.
But we also need the players an managers to contribute to such a thing. The players should stop making false claims that discredit the decisions from refs and assistants. It is a form of trying to cheat. And well I don’t really like cheaters on a football field. It would make things easier for the assistant and the ref. Spectators and fans would be more willing to accept the correct decisions from the ref and his assistants. It would improve football in general. And it would improve the image of football.
I once read an article written by someone who writes about rugby games and who was shocked because of all the false claims and cheating that happened on a football field. To be honest I don’t know enough about rugby to know if such things (false claims I mean) happen a lot. Or if it happens in other sports. So if you know anything about that please inform me.
If other sports don’t have this culture of false claims and cheating I was wondering if football is a game that brings the worst above water in a human character? Or is it just that they become that way? Is it cheating or become cheated? If so, maybe it is just a sad and bad reflections of our current society and way of living?
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