Outplayed by the referee

The quarter-final stage of the Fifa World Cup is just round the corner but the air is already thick with controversy and gloom as a result of poor refereeing decisions.

Football is a very strenuous sport as referees have to run from one end of the field to another to monitor the on-field play, aided by linesmen to rule on offsides. The case for using technology to make decisions is a strong one even without taking into consideration the controversies of this World Cup. It is nearly impossible to make split-second decisions with the fluid pace of football, especially if teams like Argentina and Brazil are involved.  The percentage of human error and the probability of it to occur at key moments are large.

Still, none of this can serve as an excuse for what happened in the Argentina versus Mexico game, when Carlos Tevez was clearly offside and scored the goal which resulted in a flood towards Mexico which they just could not hold.  Although the entire Mexican team protested vehemently against the decision – as the offside goal was being replayed again and again on giant LCDs – the referee did not budge an inch.

The game which sent England home was even worse. When England ‘scored’ at 2-1 to equalize through Frank Lampard the ball bounced clearly behind the goal line, only to be ruled out as a goal. Two huge refereeing blunders have created a major impact on the games as well as the concerned teams. The officials had enough time, even during halftime to overturn their decisions. In fact when the referee in the England versus Germany game saw the Lampard goal replay he is reported to have exclaimed “oh my god,” but nothing was done. Both these games ended in controversy even though the teams that won, Argentina and Germany easily outplayed their opponents.

In my opinion, the need for technology in refereeing football is now mandatory and needs to be implemented on several levels. Since decision referrals by players will cause too much stoppage to the game and its natural flow, the best thing to do would be to have referees access instant replays to make decisions and to review them at halftime. An option of an in-stadium head referee to refer decisions for review and perhaps, overturn decisions gone horribly wrong is not a bad idea either. Goal-line technology along the lines of fault line technology in tennis could also be introduced. According to goal-line technology, a microchip is inserted into the ball which instantly signals whether the ball has crossed the line or not. Similar technology has now been adopted in cricket and tennis, which helps in making more accurate decisions.

This technology is ready and can be implemented almost instantly worldwide. Although it is obviously expensive but with the amount of money involved in football it really shouldn’t be that big a problem. The governing body, Fifa, needs to realize that they need to change with the times, or the game will suffer for their inaction.


As published by the Dawn blog on June 29th 2010