Archive for Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Referees not winning many friends in Germany

June 27, 2006


— Their ranks include a tax inspector, a tire salesman, even an airline pilot. Then they step on the soccer field, and become referees.

Conventional wisdom holds that the best referees are the ones that nobody notices.

Instead, these arbiters of what is fair and what is foul are fast becoming the story of this World Cup. Never have so many red and yellow cards been doled out at a World Cup - and that's with two weeks left.

While it's normal for coaches and players to complain about officiating, there have been some egregious calls that all but decided games. Other games have been so brutal, so out of control, as to beg the question - who are these referees, how were they selected, and are they qualified to oversee the world's biggest sporting event?

When FIFA set up the system for choosing referees, the aim was to have the corps mirror the global nature of the tournament.

That works, to point. But different countries have different officiating standards, and that can lead to inconsistency.

Though all have passed FIFA's certification, many referees here are not full-time professionals. Some come from nations that may never play a World Cup game.

They are an eclectic group. Coffi Codjia of the West African nation of Benin lists his occupation variously as marine traffic engineer and tax inspector in Benin. Slovakia's Lubos Michel formerly sold tires. Egyptian referee Essam Abd El Fatah pilots planes.

After the first round of the 2002 World Cup was clouded by basic errors from referees who lacked the proper experience, FIFA president Sepp Blatter insisted on a strict selection process. Referees have been picked with assistants either from the same country or the same continent so they could work as teams.

"We could not be more prepared with the referees - they have all been physically and psychologically evaluated," Blatter said before the World Cup.

His instructions were to crack down on sliding challenges and flailing elbows. Referees obliged by issuing a rash of cards in a relatively incident-free opening week.

Markus Siegler, FIFA's communications director, said the fact that referees were applying the rules rigidly had aided an attacking brand of soccer.

Then things started to deteriorate.

Referees started missing handballs, not awarding goals that looked fair and allowing goals that did not. Some bad decisions could have been reversed with the use of television replays, but FIFA is strongly opposed to that.

Perhaps the most stunning instance was when Mexican referee Benito Archundia didn't award France a goal on a ball that South Korea's keeper batted away from the line - after it had crossed into the goal.

"All the coach wants is that we have coherent refereeing," France coach Raymond Domenech said.

Instead, players and coaches complained and the number of bookings piled up as matches became more tense.

After 53 of 64 matches, the totals were staggering: 24 red cards, 297 yellow cards, both World Cup records.

And, contrary to expectations, it has predominantly been top-shelf referees who have been getting it wrong.

"A lot of the games, everyone's talking about the referee, which shouldn't be," said defender Scott Chipperfield, whose Australian team was bounced Monday after a questionable penalty call by a Spanish referee let Italy win 1-0 in the last moments. "They should be talking about how good the game is. Not the refereeing. It's something that needs to be looked at."


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