TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING
What is a referee’s authority and what are his or her checks and balances that ensure he/she will do the job with integrity, firmness and fairness?
Law 5 provides the framework for the referee’s limits of authority and gives the restraints concerning the application of the laws as written.
Every trained referee has been told that the letter of the laws must be respected but not religiously or blindly. The spirit of the laws must play a crucial role in learning to make good decisions. I am sure Walter and any other referee will agree that blindly applying the laws without any consideration of their true intent will lead to disastrous results.
Some on UA advocate that the VAR referees be given the final say on a decision where the on-field referee has consulted the VAR. I do not agree, because the risk of second-guessing the referee’s decisions is too threatening and intimidating. However, I do feel that a good use of VAR is to assist the referee in making the correct decision, where he or she was unable to see the totality of the event being reviewed.
No referee worth their salt will refuse such timely and succinct help from a panel of their colleagues. That is why assistants are, by Law 6, allowed to bring breaches of the laws to the attention of the referee but NEITHER to make the final call nor to enforce the punishment.
The ¨logic¨ behind the referee having the final say after consulting VAR is based on the original intent and spirit of Law 5 (the referee) which gives the referee the SOLE and final authority to decide what should be applied and what ignored or postponed in applying the laws.
Its original intent was to avoid outside forces influencing the referee’s decisions, such as fellow officials, managers, players, owners, spectators, league organizers, the media, parents or other family members, gambling syndicates and criminals, and politicians… this list is endless.
This ensures that the referee and only THE REFEREE makes a final decision, free of incitement, intimidation and unjust or biased censure. The intent is noble however the application is not. The secrecy surrounding the referee fraternity (sorority) is useful in moderation BUT when it becomes mafia-like Omerta and concealment, it is unfair, undemocratic and dangerous to the game.
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Again, let me emphasize that a modicum of freedom from prejudicial harassment is essential for a referee to do his or her job BUT, within the legitimate structure of any governing body for referees, there MUST be a mechanism or mechanisms to assess and retrain officials punctually, where and when the need arises. Officials are human like everyone else and we make ample mistakes, miscalculations and errors, especially when we are under stress or pressure. Officials’ greatest fears and concerns are as follows;
1: The expectation that we will be perfect, make the perfect calls all the time and be perfectly impartial and even-handed when handing out decisions. THIS IS IMPOSSIBLE.
We have two types of authority on the field. The first is position authority-we are appointed as the experts in the application of the laws and we have the badge to prove it BUT the second type is far more important. That is performance authority which comes from us doing our jobs well and fairly. This earns us real respect and support, and that is the sole authority ANY official really needs. The rest is just window-dressing.
2: The expectation that when we make the inevitable error(s) or botch-up a call(s), we will be crucified by all and sundry (see the point about the law’s intent above) and our careers will be over.
Officials are most often ambitious and want to go higher and face more challenges as a referee, just like players do. We all dream of becoming FIFA officials one day, despite the obvious impossibility of such a dream. We also know that the higher you go, the more politics and ass you have to kiss and we usually come to terms with that, but NEVER by selling our souls.
3: Every time we take to the field we are a subconsciously or unconsciously concerned that we could face serious injury or even life-threatening events from the usual suspects. This is enough to break the spirit of many an otherwise good official and it can lead to an official bowing to intimidation and making a bad call or not making a call at all in or the consequences to ¨escape¨.
Any official who has officiated a tense, multi-ethnic local rivalry where 2000 fans are surrounding the field and are on a knife’s edge (literally), waiting to explode, knows what I am talking about. I personally have had to be escorted by police, in an armoured car from a stadium where 20,000+ really pissed-off fans were looking to give the officials a piece of their collective minds and I was ONLY the fourth official.
4: Finally, most officials feel the pressure to support and backup their colleagues and this develops an ¨us versus them¨ mentality, which is counter-productive to transparency and against the open and equitable nature of modern Football. I do NOT support unrestrained criticism of other officials from within our ranks BUT I do adhere to the rule that any good official must willingly accept positive and constructive criticism from fellow officials, otherwise how will we ever progress, learn or improve?
Basically this rather diatribe-like post was meant to address some superficial comments on UA where people who obviously never officiated, avidly promoted referees losing the power to make the final decision. Hopefully this article will make them think twice before glibly embarking on a spurious demand. Whether you agree or not, your thoughtful comments are always welcome.
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Just published from the Arsenal History Society