By Tony Attwood
If you’ve been on this site before, you’ll know that several of us who write articles here feel there is something wrong with refereeing, and that Arsenal are on the receiving end of dubious decisions a disproportionate number of times.
Many people have read the 2016/17 review of refereeing that we undertook in which we took the first 160 games of that Premier League season, analysing each one in terms of refereeing decisions, and providing the articles complete with video evidence. That report showed a large number of referee errors, with the range of errors was not evenly distributed, and although some who oppose our work have suggested that some of our views on refereeing decisions are wrong, no one else has actually undertaken their own review of a similar number of games or presented a consistent array of evidence for more than a few games. Ours appears to be the only in-depth study.
But still the argument goes on – mostly from people who write in with two or three line comments, making the point that we are just trying to excuse the failure of the club by blaming the refs. Their argument is either that Arsenal is treated no different than other teams, or that the view from the PGMO (the body that runs Premier League referees) that referees in the Premier League get over 99% of decisions correct, is justified.
However such arguments fail to understand a fundamental point within the articles we have published in the past. And that is that the PGMO takes, and has taken, a range of decisions that are quite different from those taken by refereeing bodies in the rest of Europe. Those decisions have never been justified by PGMO, and yet all have the effect of making it very hard to present evidence and information concerning the bias or lack of bias of referees.
In short PGMO has worked consistently to ensure that the debate is stopped and as far as I know, no other country in Europe has acted in the same way. And our twofold question quite simply is this: “Why does PGMO act so utterly differently from the way the rest of Europe acts, and why does the mainstream media not raise the question of why this is so?”
Below I want to sketch out some of the ways in which PGMO has set up a system that makes it easy for anyone engaged in match fixing to fix matches using a system known as Type III match fixing, and then repeat the question, “why is the PGMO acting in this way?” And my point is not that referees or PGMO is corrupt, but that they are acting strangely and it would be interesting to know why.
So, here are the ways in which PGMO differs from the rest of Europe overall. Not from every other country on every point, but overall.
But first, in case you have not seen it before, here is an explanation of Type III match fixing.
In this a rich owner of a club goes to a number of referees and says they will be rewarded if a rival club is disadvantage in matches NOT involving the rich owner’s club. So, if there is a case of a foul that could lead to a yellow card or not, if should be a yellow. If there is a dubious penalty call, if it is against one of these nominated teams, then it should be awarded. And so on.
It Italy when the approach flourished, Juventus and other teams were accused of using the system, and here we might see it as the owner of Juventus saying to referees, “if you are refereeing AC Milan, Inter Milan, or Napoli, and there is an incident that might award them a penalty, which could see them win the match, it would be helpful if you did not give it. And incidentally the 18 bedroom villa on the lakes with full staff, drinks and food, will be available for your family for the month of June…”
So we come to the questions.
- One way to hinder such corruption is to ensure that each referee only works with each team twice. That doesn’t stop corruption but it reduces the chances of it happening. But in the PL some referees handle the same club half a dozen times in a season, giving them lots of chance to influence results. Why? It doesn’t mean there is match fixing but it increases the risk of match fixing.
- In some countries referees can be interviewed in the media – sometimes straight after a game. In the PL it is not only forbidden but referees are offered additional payments if they sign non-disclosure agreements which apply after their tenure is over. Why is the PL so different?
- One way to stop anything dubious happening is to introduce VAR, which was introduced for virtually every major league except the PL. Why was it ok for everyone else, but it was delayed in England?
- In earlier times some radio journalists were famous for their criticism of referees. Then it suddenly stopped. The only explanation we’ve found is that part of the contract that gives broadcast rights to radio stations stipulates that the referee is not criticised, beyond the occasional, “I think the ref may have got that one wrong,” and no more. Why is this?
- We know for sure that the TV contracts contain regulations about the stations not showing certain events. Why is this? Surely if it is felt that should the case the exact details of the contract should be revealed so that the viewer knows what is being removed. Why is this not done – or better, why not abandon the censored approach?
- Apart from Untold’s 160 game review, there are few analyses of referee acuracy with video evidence, showing exactly what events occurred and which ones can be seen in retrospect to be wrong. Why is this?
- As long ago as the 1970s, national newspapers in Britain were suggesting that TV broadcasters were editing football matches that were shown, in order to make them seem more entertaining than they were in reality. That would be natural for TV stations to do, to encourage their audience, so what is done to eliminate this and ensure the coverage is fair?
- Why won’t PGMO engage in a debate on these matters with organisations that have no vested interest in talking up the quality of football (ie not those that are licensed by the Leagues or FA to broadcast or report on games)?
There are more questions, but those will do. And as I say in the headline – the utter and absolute refusal of PGMO to answer these questions tells us that there is indeed something seriously wrong. It is not that I expect them to talk to Untold, but there are many others who are raising questions – and the refusal even to entertain the notion that there is an issue to be debated is the fundamental problem.
There was something terribly wrong with Italian football, and part of the reason that it took so long to be debated was that the culture of debate and questioning by football journalists was abandoned. That in itself does not suggest there must be something wrong, but it is highly indicative.
It is not helpful to have subjects banned, as they currently are – but if PGMO wants to ban some debate, surely it ought to come clean about it.