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Top soccer: Failing referees or failing policy?

By Han de Koning, director KingsTalent

Han de Koning

Soccer is by far the most beautiful sport in the world for me, and I know there are a lot of people all over the world who feel the same way. The game simply has everything; competition, passion, technique, tactics, skill and human error. All this makes soccer, from amateur level to Champions League level, the most beautiful sport in the world for me.

This is also why soccer is the most popular sport in the world. It’s popularity is unmatched. But an important consequence of this popularity is the increase in (financial) interests in all aspects of the game, especially in the higher national and international divisions and competitions. Soccer is a multi million dollar sport and these amounts are increasing fast, think about tv revenues, transfer funds, prize money and the salaries of players and staff.

Ref failingIn my opinion there is one big probleem with present-day top soccer and her increasing (financial) interests, which is arbitrary failure. I am astonished about the number of wrong decisions made by referees and their assistants, in professional present-day soccer, every weekend again. In reality this regularly leads to (verbal) abuse of referees by players and staff, (verbal) abuse by fans en the feeling of distortion of competition. Besides this referees and assistants are confronted with their mistakes after the games by the media and addressed personally. There is no single sport in the world where there is so much criticism on referees by players and staff on the field, or by the media afterwards.

The main cause of this is that in soccer the human decisions (and mistakes) are central, and players and staff will see, just as I see, referees making a lot of mistakes outlined by the media. A second important cause of the increasing emotions by players, staff and fans are the increasing (financial) interests in soccer. Worst case scenario a wrong decision made by a referee in the field will hurt a soccer club for millions. In short, soccer is still a game, but it is a game in which there is a lot at stake for everyone involved.


But is it my intention here to just complain about referees in present-day soccer? No.
Referees and their assistants are people, and people make mistakes. It’s as simple as that.
But (financial) interests in present-day top soccer are so big in my opinion that wrong decisions have to be avoided where ever possible.

Sepp Blatter (president of world soccer association FIFA) states that arbitrary mistakes are part of the game and are important for the ‘fascination and popularity of the game’. FIFA is clear in their regulations that electronic resources may only be used after the game for the sake of possible suspensions.

Sepp and I really have different opinions on this. The bigger the interests the more important it becomes to pursue a fair playing field over the whole line. This means that the room for arbitrary mistakes should be minimized as far as possible.
To achieve this all technological resources should be allowed. This will lead to less (verbal) abuse and discussion with referees, will take away the feeling of distortion of competition, will take the pressure off the referees because they can fall back on technology to back up their decisions and will lead to a more fair game overall.

The good news is that this is actually possible. The technological resources are long available to make the sport more fair to everyone. Moreover, soccer has a serious delay in the use of technological resources in comparison to other sports. Examples of other sports who did embrace the modern age and technological resources are: Field-hockey, Tennis, Basketball (NBA), Baseball (MLB), Rugby, American Football (NFL), Cricket and Motorsports (Nascar and Indycar).

NFL RefereeWatch an American Football game. The referee makes an important decision, then they look at the footage, the referee talks through his microphone over all the speakers in the stadium about what happened, what he saw on the video footage and what his decision is based on all this. Result: Fans (from both sides) are satisfied with the decision and there is no protest from players and coaches.
So in short: less (verbal) abuse on the field, less (verbal) abuse from fans, no feeling of distortion of competition and an overall respect for the referee because of his immediate public response to the play at hand. This is why I think soccer has a lot to learn from American Football on this particular topic.

So it’s not the failing referees who are the cause of many of the problems in present-day soccer, the cause is failing policy (especially from FIFA) which fails to address the increasing (financial) interests and also fails to understand that many of the unwanted elements in present-day soccer are a result of there own failing policy.

My advice to FIFA: please don’t let soccer as a sport fall behind any further.
There comes a time when the increasing interests in present-day (international) top soccer outweigh the ‘charm of the human decision’.
And that time is now!
It is time for the use of full-scale technological resources in top soccer!

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