Are referees protected too much in football?
Being a football referee is no easy task. Thrown into the forefront of a sport demonstrating whirlwind pace, your perception of an incident, unlike most, is magnified and you’re expected to pinpoint events with the utmost astuteness. However, while maintaining fitness is difficult and finding favour with both parties near-on impossible, when discussing referees one cannot help but feel they are handed their fair share of mollycoddling from the organisations above.
Poor decisions are seldom penalised, yet coaches and players alike face heavy sanctions when they question an official’s decision in the media’s firing line, so perhaps it’s time we took a look at the treatment of referees from the other side of the fence.
FA punish managers for post-match comments, but what if they are right?
The first piece of evidence sees the FA squarely to blame. Football is a passionate game and it is difficult for managers and players to bite their tongues. And so, accusations hurled in an official’s direction can be below the belt and warrant punishment. On the contrary, associations such as the FA deem it just to issue the same sanctions to those who shatter a referee’s integrity as those who innocently question a bizarre decision.
For example, Jose Mourinho has always been a favourite with the media and his degrading and inappropriate comments regarding the referees’ ‘campaign’ and ‘blatant discrimination’ against his side were rightfully met with a £25,000 fine by the FA – this was the right action to be taken.
Compare this with an incident involving another bold figure in the dug-out, Sir Alex Ferguson, and it is clear the FA fall down when it comes to striking a balance between suitable treatments for post-game comments. The long-time United boss questioned a couple of decisions made by referee Simon Beck in a league game with Tottenham in 2013 and stated: ‘‘Rafael was fouled in the build-up to their goal. It was a clear foul, but we didn’t get it,” as reported by BBC.
Ferguson continued “It was a clear penalty earlier. He has put his leg right in there. The linesman is facing it.” Now, while the fiery Fergie may not be the best candidate to use as an attempt to draw sympathy, a £12,000 fine for these comments seems very steep indeed.
I cannot ignore the inescapable conclusion that managers are no longer allowed to question decisions in the media. While the FA are not averse to scapegoating particular managers when they are as to so much as breath in the wrong direction, they are ultra-protective of their officiating team and will not tolerate any criticism of them, even if they are constructive and justified.
Mourinho’s refusal to comment on what he obviously felt was a poor refereeing performance from Michael Oliver on the seasons’s opening day may have been needless, but it highlights the frustrations and caution managers face in post-match interviews now.
Referees are not allowed to admit or discuss their mistakes
Another hot topic is that of the contact between the media and match officials. While it’s great to hear that Mike Riley, manager of the Professional Game Match Officials Board (PGMO), and other knowledgeable heads are willing to dissect eye-catching incidents in the public’s eye, we do not see enough officials coming out after a game to explain a controversial decision or even just apologise if they have got it wrong.
The reason for this? It’s forbidden by EPL protocol. How can we expect to see the hard feelings between referees and coaches eradicated if the greater powers are hazing communication between the two?
The apparent lack of sanctions referees face for poor displays is also alarming. Scathing comments from players and managers are punished, yet if we witness our side awarded a list of poor decisions, the worst penalty the official will face is a couple of weeks in lower league football.
This not only means our smaller divisions are having their games officiated by an out-of-form ref, but the officials themselves are suffering because their poor performance has practically been discarded when the tough reality of the job means some direction would not go amiss.
How under-performing referees should be dealt with
If having to deal with the pressures of a big game occasion isn’t bad enough, referees are also under the watchful eye of official refereeing assessors. During their analysis, referees are evaluated namely on their dealings with key match incidents and, after accumulating a match performance score, are compared to other officials that week. The pick of referees are given another run-out the following week while those who slumped in quality seem to be simply left to rot.
A consistent run of poor performances seems only to result in demotion when one can’t help but think the issue should be addressed. Rather than tossing out the flagging referee to make space for new blood, there should be a time when officials are given a period of, say, a couple of weeks in which they are put through their paces to improve fitness, knowledge of the game and decision-making. This means that confidence is not shattered and it is seen that something is being done and the officials are not subjected to over-protection by virtue of being hidden away.
The reluctance of football’s governing bodies to further the involvement of technology in the game also fuels the idea that referees are protected far too much. If there were to be an official off the pitch with the advantage of several screens and replays available to them, extreme decisions could be revoked and the game would be balanced again.
Instead, it seems the footballing consortium believes this would unearth cracks in the referee’s games when it would actually be of great benefit and relieve an awful lot of pressure come match day.
Respect is non-negotiable in football and officials deserve it in abundance. But unless shoddy performances are met with appropriate action, managers and the media can converse with referees after the game and technology’s part in the game is stepped up a notch, it seems the men in the middle could play centre stage in some games for years to come.