Blame FIFA For Referee Mistakes at the World Cup

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By Darrell Victor: With a couple of harsh dismissals and one disallowed goal from the USA/Slovenia match, referees have again managed to be the scapegoats. FIFA's referee committee at the World Cup decided that the German referee (Stark) for the Argentina/Nigeria game should have disallowed the goal. While a referee must own his mistakes, there is the cogent argument that FIFA should take some of the "credit" for the referee performances at the World Cup.

Referee selection

FIFA decided that they would give referees from all confederations a chance to do World Cup matches. The quality of refereeing across the world is not even by any means. Better officials tend to come out of Europe and South America. This is no surprise since Europe and South America have the best leagues. Therefore, the top referees from these leagues officiate in top-flight matches with crowded stadia and television scrutiny.

Officials from Mali and New Zealand are less likely to have these opportunities. Any referee could make a mistake, but what one does not want is a referee making errors because he is unaccustomed to a certain level of football and the level of skill among the world's best players. Referee selection also applies to the referees selected within confederations. Even the best confederations have some questionable FIFA officials. However, the World Cup requires the best referees with experience. Perhaps FIFA could increase the age for FIFA referees by a year or two to ensure that they have a wider pool of experienced referees from which to choose.

No additional help for match officials

Even the most anachronistic of sports (cricket) currently uses technology to improve the standard of officiating. FIFA adamantly rejected the use of goal-line technology and repeatedly refused to entertain the idea of video replays, suggesting that it would slow down the pace of the game. Sepp Blatter, FIFA's president, even suggested that referee errors and the resultant controversy provide a talking point. He might have a point, as many football fans can recall Maradona's "hand of God."

UEFA experimented with two extra match officials during the Europa league. This might have ensured that Henry's match-winning handled-ball during the playoff against the Republic of Ireland. FIFA does not seem likely to yield to calls from former players, fans and analysts for video replays and additional help for match officials in the near future.

Advice to referees and secrecy

Football match officials are not required to explain their match decisions openly. In many instances, officials are discouraged from doing this publicly, since it would appear to undermine their competence and authority. FIFA does this behind closed doors and the performance of referees is routinely assessed. However, the FIFA referees committee might negatively influence officiating at the World Cup. They criticized W. Stark of Germany for allowing Argentina's goal against Nigeria at the 2010 World Cup because an Argentine player impeded a Nigerian defender.

In the match against the USA, Malian referee Koman Coulibaly disallowed a US goal because he likely felt that the US players were obstructing the Slovenian defenders. Replays did not support this view. If anything, it seemed as though the Slovenians were the protagonists in the penalty-area tussle. Perhaps the advice to referees to look out for such infraction made Coulibaly prejudiced in that particular situation, to the point where he disregarded the infraction by the Slovenians.

FIFA needs to do more about officiating at the highest level. Football will always have some controversy and video replays are not necessarily a universal panacea. However, FIFA's secret handling of referee errors, without admitting when officials make mistakes is not healthy for the game. When referees make major mistakes, FIFA (and referees) should at least be able to admit that. For all the aforementioned reasons, FIFA must take some discredit for the performance of referees at the World Cup.

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