Imagine for a second that I am going to set up a referee group for a sport in 2016. Now imagine that I don’t want to use video replay or video refereeing in my sport. But, my sport is covered by dozens of cameras at every game. Every moment of the game is immortalized, every foul is played back in slow motion, and every bad deed is punished in the court of public opinion.
Now imagine that I know all of this and that my referees often look like they miss a lot of big calls or at least get a lot of big calls wrong. I don’t want to publicly make it look like my referees don’t know what they are doing so I protect them by saying that the calls on the pitch are what matter and we don’t want to “re-referee” games through post-match video trials. But, every once in a while an incident happens which is so shocking that the public demands retroactive punishment and so, we constructed this “get out of jail free” card; if the referee just says “oh that? Like Arsene Wenger says, I didn’t see it!” we will allow the matter to be settled by TV jury.
This escape loop, that my refs just have to say that they didn’t see an incident, means that I don’t even have to instruct my officials to say that they didn’t see something. They will naturally say that to cover themselves whenever there is a high-profile error. Though, we will probably instruct our referees to only include in their reports what they know that they saw. Anything that they aren’t sure of, they are told to omit. After all, you’re not sure of what you saw, so why report it?
This is the situation that Football finds itself in in 2016.
This madness is the outgrowth of a series of rules and interpretations set up by three organizations: the Football Association (the FA, the governing body of football in England), the PGMOL (Professional Game Match Officials Limited, the group that selects referees for FA football matches), and Fifa (a group of officials from Switzerland who oversee all of the international bribery and corruption of the game of Football). That last bit about Fifa being the bribery clearinghouse for World Cup football would be libelous if Fifa hadn’t admitted they were guilty and had all of their officials from the last group banned from football.
The FA says that Fifa says that they aren’t allowed to re-referee matches. This is the FA hiding behind Fifa’s skirt. Major League Soccer had a massive problem with hideous tackles and they decided to use a video panel, which they call the MLS Disciplinary Committee, to review all matches. It doesn’t matter if the referee saw the incident or not. And the foul doesn’t have to be even that egregious for the MLS Disciplinary Committee to step in and add extra punishment.
Nigel de Jong, known as one of the dirtiest players in the history of the game, fouled Darlington Nagbe and the referee gave a yellow. It was a two-footed tackle and it was horrible. But it was the type of tackle you see almost every weekend in the Premier League, sometimes it is punished, sometimes it is not punished, but they are certainly not the type of physical assault at the level of, say, Ben Thatcher on Pedro Mendes*.
I entreat you, watch the video of the foul. Now, read the MLS Disciplinary Committee’s statement:
“While De Jong received a yellow card during the match, the Disciplinary Committee was unanimous that the action was a clear and unequivocal red card and the play was of an egregious and reckless nature such that the Committee must act to protect player safety.”
This was from April 2016. In Major League Soccer, the games are being re-refereed. Not only for red cards, but also for flopping. How is that possible? The FA claim that Fifa prohibits such behavior! Could the answer simply be that the FA could re-referee matches if they wanted to???
MLS is also pioneering video replay refereeing this season. Unlike the Football Association, MLS just wants to get the big calls right.
What sparked all of this debate, however, is that Mark Halsey, former PGMOL referee said that he was instructed to write reports with “I didn’t see it” as part of the report. It’s a repeat of a claim he has made before in his book Added Time. Added Time was published three years ago and included a number of shocking revelations; that Halsey and Ferguson were text buddies, and that Mourinho paid for Halsey and his family to stay at a 4-star hotel. Mourinho even does Halsey the favor of writing the intro to the book. Imagine bragging about Mourinho buying you off with a four-star hotel.
The relevant passage from the book in regard to being told what to omit from reports goes like this:
‘That came before a conversation with Mike Riley when he said I would be getting a phone call from Tarik Shamel, head of on-field regulation at the FA, about the incidents involving Nzonzi.
‘When the call came, Tarik told me that Mike had told him there should have been a sending-off. Not for me, there shouldn’t, I said. Tarik left it up to me to decide the next step.
‘Reluctantly, feeling under pressure to deliver the result Mike wanted, I agreed rather than cause a problem and have yet more bad blood with him.
The PGMOL have refuted the claim. Mike Riley, head of the PGMOL, has refuted the claim. I’ve been writing about this issue now for three years. So, why is it suddenly in the public eye? Because Gary Neville has taken this cause up and called it tantamount to corruption.
It’s not corruption. What this is is the stupidity of PGMOL and the FA in pretending that Fifa won’t allow them to set up a system similar to what MLS uses. If they did set up a video review system, they could simply ask the referees to write reports and when they see something, they could interview the referee who would say “yeah, I saw it, but it didn’t look that bad in the game. Now that I have seen the replay, however, WOW, I would have totally given a red card.” Or maybe the referee would simply say that he saw it and wouldn’t have given a card even after the video replay. That’s also possible.
The way that Major League Soccer handles these incidents is spot on. They publish their decisions along with video of the offense and so everyone knows how the referees are instructed to call the games. And in the MLS violent tackles are punished more often. And the game is cleaned up because players know that they will get a retroactive ban if they kick another player up and down the pitch or if they use simulation to win a penalty.
And who wouldn’t want to see the game cleaned up a bit more in England?
*For those of you who are too young to know, Ben Thatcher ran at Pedro Mendes full speed and elbowed him in the face. Mendes lost consciousness and had to be stretchered off with oxygen. The ref gave a yellow card and the FA, under great pressure from the public, re-refereed the incident giving Thatcher an 8 match ban with a 15 match suspended ban. This foul is often held up as the level of grievous bodily harm that must be perpetrated in order for the FA to step in and overrule a referee.