A case for the referees: Why the match officials need to be protected

Huddersfield Town v Leicester City - Premier League
Jon Moss was at the centre of the attention in the Liverpool v Tottenham Hotspur fixture
Sourav Saha

Back in school when games used to mean a mere-kick about among friends, there was always the question of who would be the referee. In cricket matches, generally, the best way to go about it was to appoint one member from each team as the two officials, so as to ensure parity.

But for games such as football and hockey, none would even dare volunteer, as it might lead to future repercussions – mostly, the likelihood of not being picked for the game. In other games though, refereeing meant keeping score.

Professional sports though levies a higher standard of duty on match officials and that is prevalent in all forms of sports. In the past week, football referees have been scrutinised, mocked and have been subject to different levels of ridicule.

Technology as a necessity has been suggested to aid the match officials. However, as Michael Cox points out in his piece, “Tactical fouling is spoiling football - time for the rulemakers to stamp it out”football as a sport has been the slowest to embrace technology.

Conservatives are of the belief that it will take away the charm of the sport with too many stoppages and time-outs and unnecessary controversy. But with elite sports all being subjected to technology so as to ensure the game is fair, it is time for football to use it in the most effective manner.

Referees need all the help they can get

In the game between Liverpool versus Tottenham Hotspur, Jon Moss was the most trending topic and for over a week and more, he was still the most talked about person among football fans and pundits alike.

To recap the set of events, Moss was at the centre of the controversy in the Liverpool v Tottenham Hotspur fixture in the Premier League. His decisions of awarding of two penalties in the final stages of the game left a lot to be desired.

But it was the conversation between him and his assistant referee that has caused a lot of furore. A transcript of the conversation was published in the Liverpool Echo as well.

Although, the conversation was eavesdropped upon by the Sky cameras, it was heartening to note that Mr. Moss enquired whether if he could refer his call to the television as he wasn’t sure about how the ball had played out to Kane, who had gone down following a challenge from the Liverpool keeper, Lloris Karius.

It was only human of him to accept that he hadn’t seen the touch and due to a lack of television assistance, he chose to award the penalty, his original decision.

Already, the FA and now La Liga are looking to hand out punishments to players retrospectively for diving and provocative goal celebrations. While that looks hunky dory, it is the requirement of instant technology that will aid the referees more so as to help them make their decisions on-field much easier.

Huddersfield Town v Manchester United - The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round
VAR caused a huge controversy in the FA Cup Fifth Round -Huddersfield Town v Manchester United match

Referees and Video Assistant Review (VAR)

In the last couple of weeks, the hue and cry about the referees and VAR have seen a new level of outcry. The referees have a dual task of monitoring the game as well as conducting the game in the same manner as a conductor conducts the orchestra.

Good referees are barely noticeable over the period of the game and the thankless nature of the job coupled with the minute scrutiny of matches means referees are always under the scanner.

Change is something that takes time to adapt to and similarly, as various sports have adopted the technology, the initial furore by the traditionalists have often given way to the rationalists.

Sports like cricket, tennis and hockey have adopted technology and have reaped the benefits. From Decision Review System to Hawk-eye, the marginal calls have often benefitted the game as a whole.

Football understandably represents a different challenge as a pause is not a part of the game. Unlike other sports, football is slated to carry on, hence games with VAR have often left managers seething especially if the decision has gone against them.

However, as leagues across Europe are showing, VAR is a useful mechanism, the Serie A and Bundesliga are slowly embracing it while on the shores of England, it is through the FA Cup that the VAR has introduced itself.

Only time will tell whether the adoption of VAR is a success or not. But from the looks of it, the technology is here to stay. Referees are always fighting a losing battle and sometimes the atmosphere makes it near impossible to get all decisions correct.

Add to that the frenzy and the heated exchanges – so the assistance of any manner will only help these conductors of the game do their job more confidently and help provide us with a spectacle where the game will be the talking point rather than the contentious decision.

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Edited by Shambhu Ajith
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