By Tony Attwood
Imagine just for a moment that you were invited by a country that is applying to be part of Uefa to help them put their footballing on a sound basis.
You’d probably take the standard model of three or four organisations, one which ran the league, one (probably a trade union) which looked after players affairs, and a separate body to be in charge of refereeing. You might encourage the clubs to set up their own representative body too.
The reason for this separation is simple – each body can represent its area of interest, and stop any one part of the football world becoming too dominant, and thus reduce the chance of corruption. Through representatives of the three or four bodies issues can readily be discussed and resolved.
And indeed this is roughly what we have in England (although we have split the FA and the PL into two organisations for historic reasons), and it is like this many other countries. Not necessarily this exact separation of responsibility and power, but something along these lines.
Now if we move forwards, and if you imagine that you were involved in setting up the referee body what would you want? Here are what seem to be the most obvious logical rules
1. Enough referees
Not just enough refs to cover all the weekend’s games, but also enough in case of injuries or illness, and indeed to be really sure of things, enough to ensure that no ref got to officiate any club more than twice in a season. Just in case there was any allegation of bias.
2. Referees from a wide geographic and cultural spread
Also if your country had a linguistic, cultural or religious division, or indeed regional rivalries you would want to have a coverage from each sector of society. Not everyone from the north of England or the French speaking part of Belgium or the Protestant community in Scotland
3. An open culture
There is no particular reason why the referee association should be secret, and in democratic societies there is always a drive towards openness. Openness in government, in the courts, of businesses, of political decision making – these are the things that democracies aspire to.
Of course our society often fails to reach these lofty ideals, but the history of western democracies is of a continual pushing back of secrecy. And there is no obvious reason why referees should be the one monopoly provider of services that should be deliberately secret.
So you might imagine that referee reports on all matches should be made public, as should the review of the referee’s performance by the referees’ organisation (let’s call it The R.O.) so that we can all see how good or bad each ref is. After all everyone from teachers to hospital managemers are openly assessed and the assessments made public in England, so why are refs different?
And one could introduce an open channel of communication from the public the R.O. and from the R.O to the public, so we all know what is going on. That is in keeping with democracy, an open society, and the huge interest that there is in football.
4. An open complaints procedure
Organisations need to be held accountable – in Britain we are struggling to find regulations to keep our press free but not able to destroy people’s lives or hack their phones, for example. We have struggled to control our wildly criminal bankers but we are trying. Nothing is perfect, but at least our society is making an effort.
So with referees there should be a proper complaints procedure – not just to appeal against a yellow card, but to be able formally to question a referee’s competence. Of course we need processes to stop trivial complaints and those not backed with evidence – perhaps with the complainant having to pay costs, as in the courts if the complaint is trivial.
Complaints then could be brought by clubs, and indeed by members of the public, and the R.O would have to answer them, and show due process and proper evidence of hearings held in public.
5. A look at where it has gone wrong before
While drawing up these laws and regulations you would probably want to look at cases of where refereeing has gone wrong – for example places where games have been fixed for the purpose of betting, and of course with Italy’s corruption in which clubs got referees to be just that little bit in favour of some teams and against others. Match after match after match.
You would note also that this spread to the bribing of TV production companies not to show certain incidents, and so you would want to put in place procedures to ensure this did not happen. Procedures like openness, appeals, multiple refs etc – indeed you would check that all your procedures could stop a repeat of the Italian situation – even if you had no evidence of anything being amiss in your own country.
6. Liaison with TV
Given that TV brings in a huge amount of money, and thus has a huge amount of power the question might be asked about TV’s responsibilities, and whether TV is influencing referees through what it shows and doesn’t show. So discussions between TV and the R.O would be helpful with all the details published.
In particular the R.O should ensure that there is nothing that it does (such as offering ex-refs huge sums NOT to appear on TV) which could be deemed to be restrictive in terms of public knowledge about refereeing.
It is clear that in all societies most supporters don’t actually know all the rules of football, and indeed most commentators on radio and TV and in the press, don’t seem to know the rules about such issues as “intent” and “he got the ball” etc. So a very open and very public debate on the laws of football and how referees interpret them would be very helpful indeed, with current referees taking part.
8. Modern technology
Given that digital technology is here and is used all the time, you would probably want the R.O to be at the forefront of this issue, demanding the availability of instant replays from an off-field ref who can determine what’s what at a second’s notice. There might need to be refinements to ensure that the game does not stop more than it does now, but this should certainly be a major and urgent consideration.
9. Open forums
These are complex and difficult matters to get right and there will always be debate, so you will want mechanisms through which the R.O and the public – as well as the media and the clubs, can engage in a proper and professional manner with the referees. Of course people who just come along with no evidence, or the evidence of one decision and then say “he’s bent” or “he’s not bent” should not be taken seriously, and wild accusations should be subject to the normal law of the land. But the essence of all this should be openness.
10. Open tribunals
Of course players will be sent off and others will have their careers ended by tackles launched by the criminally insane among the playing fraternity. So there will need to be enquiries, and like the courts of the land these should be open to the public and the media.
In England all courts are open to the public except for cases in the Family Division of the High Court (on the grounds that issues relating to children in particular should not be available to the public gaze). Why the activities of the referees and their enquiries into incidents within a football match should also be protected from the public gaze is something I just can’t answer.
So there are ten starting points that you might want to consider. You might not want all of them, you might want something different, but they all follow the essence of the way democracies in western Europe are heading – towards more openness.
This is not to say that in the UK, where we have a daily increase in surveillance of members of the public through cameras on every street and the reading of emails by GCHQ, we are anywhere near getting matters right. But the secrecy of PGMO is fanatical even by the 19th century standards of openness of debate that exist within the rest of the country.
Indeed by writing this out in this way we can see that what PGMO does is the opposite of all of this. They don’t just fall down on one or two points, they fall down on it all. They are the ultimate secret society – so secret even the Masonic Lodges would blanche, and so in contemplating this odd situation we might ask three questions
a) why is the PGMO like this?
b) why do the clubs allow it?
c) why does the media not challenge PGMO’s secrecy? Indeed worse, what is the Telegraph doing republishing their occasional press releases without critical comment?
To my mind, the failure of PGMO on all of the above points is enough to show that there is something very seriously wrong with Premier League refereeing. If there wasn’t, why on earth would they need all this secrecy and this tiny number of referees? If they differed from the ten issues above on one or two points that could be a matter of opinion and debate, but all ten? PGMO is utterly out of step with the attributes of a democratic society.
What is the benefit of creating a secret society to run refereeing? And who benefits?
These are the questions the media should be asking, and the fact that they don’t raises issues about their involvement in the whole affair, as much as we need to raise the issues of just how the monster that is PGMO has created this situation.
The Christmas books
- Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football – Arsenal’s early years
- Making the Arsenal – how the modern Arsenal was born in 1910
- The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal
Some other sites from the Untold team (there is a full list on the home page)
- The Arsenal History Society
- UK Education News – the rolling news service
- Dyscalculia on line test and support
- The Direct Marketing blog: direct mail, email, websites, blogs
- The Secret Nurse : what is really going wrong with the NHS?
- Untold Dylan – the music, the lyrics, the meaning of Bob Dylan’s songs.
- How a 14th monk described Arsenal’s failure to buy Moisés Caicedo and Mykhailo Mudryk
- The January transfer window moved few players around: but did any club benefit?
- Are Newcastle United really in financial difficulty? And what about Arsenal?
- Did Arsenal want Mudryk and Caicedo, and was it just luck that they didn’t sign them?
- Is the Premier League getting more exciting or simply ever more predictable?