Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Why Television Match Officials are not going to make sport any better

Last night's sport underlines that it's no use relying on what commentators lump under the word "technology" to ensure the better adjudication of games. The Test series between England and the West Indies has been played under a referral system whereby batsmen and bowlers could ask for a certain number of decisions to be reviewed by an official watching TV pictures of the incident. Human nature and professional sport being what they are, by the time it came down to the last nail-biting hour they had used up all their "lives". At the same time the umpires in the middle had, like rugby union referees, been increasingly happy to abdicate their responsibility to make decisions on the spot to some bloke in the pavillion, at great cost to their own personal authority.

Meanwhile over in Turin Drogba's shot clearly crossed the line and was smuggled out by a Juventus goalkeeper whose embarrassment was evident to everyone apart from the referee and the linesman. Both of them were in a tearing hurry to resume the game and must have thanked the Almighty when Chelsea scored seconds later. Maybe there is a case for "goal line technology" but it's not as strong as the case for officials who are a bit stronger than those at Juventus. All the gismos in the world aren't going to make football any fairer or prove that beneath that pile of bodies a try has been scored. It's not science. It's sport. You do not ask sporting officials to establish the truth. You hire them to ensure something called "fair play", which is a different thing altogether.

And the reason that there are so many controversial incidents in football is because all footballers cheat instinctively. Managers have the gall to criticise a ref for unfairness and at the same time send out eleven players with direct instructions to deceive that same person. If professional football was run using a referral system it wouldn't be long before you would have lawyers on the bench, games were being held up as a matter of course and the man in the middle was happily letting somebody else be the arbiter. TV would love it, of course, but it wouldn't make the game any fairer.


  1. Absolutely right David, about the double standards. Players whinge about bad decisions yet spend the whole game challenging, intimidating and deceiving the referee, thereby making his job infinitely more difficult. They also conveniently forget all the incorrect decisions which go in their favour.

  2. I'm not entirely sure I agree with your assertion that all players cheat instinctively, but I know what you mean.

    The thing is, the sheer amounts of money at stake in football now mean that footballers at the top level are always highly unlikely to behave honourably. Their employers and fans are unlikely to appreciate it when they do.

    Take Ryan Babel against arsenal in last year's champions' League quarter final. he went down incredibly easily under a challenge to win an incredibly dubious penalty to snatch the game for Liverpool. these things happen in football, but the impact of such an act can hardly be measured, either in terms of potential income for the club, or the prestige they win by going a round further and having a chance of making the final.

    Babel's was an act of cheating, but you can be absolutely sure it earned him great appreciation from all at the club. No doubt he would do the same thing every time, as would the vast majority of footballers.

  3. The solution (in my head) is to think of there being a difference between 'sport' and 'games'. Sport involves 'sportsmanship'. Games involve 'gamesmanship'. Footy = game. Expectations are thus lowered, preventing endless harping on about penalties and offsides. Done, and dusted.

  4. For my sports of choice - rugby and cricket - referral have made not a jot of improvement to the games. It's becoming increasingly tedious watching umpteen angles of a 'try' or lbw/catch appeals. And in the case of cricket it further slows the test game, which is in danger of being swollen whole by 20/20.
    I think this does detract from the role of a referee/umpire. in the vast majority of cases instinct is correct. For those that are in question video playbacks can often confuse rather than resolve the question.