Football, rugby and referees

(Wrote this a few years ago but now organising stuff so I have it in one place)

When I was a little girl and started to go and watch football with my dad there was one thing he taught me from the very beginning. The referee is always right! My dad was a very good football player in his day. I never saw him play at his best but have been told that had the game been professional in Sweden at the time he would have been playing proffesionally. He had played games at all levels from local village games up to playing for North Sweden v North Norway and North Finland. For him it was a matter of course to respect the referee and as part of the game itself adher to the fact that the referee is always right. When I started playing myself this was deeply ingrained into me. I was captain of my team for most of 15 years and throughout my playing days the referee was always right. I didn’t necessarily agree with him/her all the time but I kept that to myself.

Therefore, I find it very hard to accept the way football is now treating their referees. I am saying football because even though it is the players that mainly hands out the abuse there are few laws that the referee can use to help him and in the end that is down to FIFA. The lack of respect from managers and players for the referees has led to football supporters behaving even worse at times. Anders Frisk a former Swedish referee felt that enough was enough after he and his young family received death threats from Chelsea fans after a Champions League match(http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/sport/football/article432383.ece ). We have seen Alex Ferguson recieve a 5 match ban for his behaviour. For me it’s clear that bad behaviour on the pitch or by the managers gives a clear signal to the fans that that type of behaviour is accepted and even asked for.

What’s worse, football doesn’t seem to do much about it. We seldom see any repercussions after atrocious behaviour on and off the pitch. What makes it even harder is that a sport that pretty much grew up next door has working laws in place but football has so far refused to even contemplate changes in that direction. I am of course talking about rugby union. I watch a lot of rugby and appreciate that the referee is so much better respected by the players and coaches. When I watch football it quite often makes me sad and disillusioned because of the way the players behave and their lack of respect for the referee. Especially as this is something that spreads and we now have a huge problem with abusive parents and young children behaving badly in youth football. One weekend there were three fights between parents, one fight between the children playing in my local area and that’s only the ones I know of.

There are some rugby laws that can be brought in directly to football and would increase respect for match officials and make football more enjoyable. There are three laws I would bring in to football to directly help the standing of the referee when on the pitch which are easy to implement. They are tools for the referee to control the behaviour of the players and have a direct impact on the player and the team.

•Penalty can be moved 10 metres forward (in football it would be the freekick)
•Sin bin
•Reversed penalties/freekicks
The first law would enable the referee to move a freekick forward as a direct consequence of
players questioning his decision or swearing at him for the decision made. The referee just says 10 metres and that’s it. The player has been given a clear warning that he is out of line and if he continues more severe sanctions will be implemented.

I think the yellow cards in today’s football are pretty useless. For example, van der Sar was given a yellow card against Liverpool at Anfield and what implications did it have, none! There was no incitament for him not to shout at the referee as he knew that a yellow card would be the only consequence. If he knew that he could be sent off for 10 minutes, would he have done the same? The introduction of a sin bin would increase the referee’s possibilities to directly deal with any dissent or foul play by the players, being a more severe outcome for the player and his team. In rugby, if you committ a yellow card offense you are sent off for 10 minutes. It is a direct punishment and has an impact there and then on the player and the game. The accumulation of cards in tournaments would become a non issue as the disciplinary action has already been meted.

Reversed penalties/freekicks is another but slightly different tool for the match officials. This law makes it possible to reverse an already given penalty/freekick and give it to the opposition. This option is mainly used if a player retaliates. The scenario could be that one player is brought down and is given a free kick. If he or any of his team mates then goes up to the offending player and pushes them, kicks them etc the referee can choose to reverse the penalty. I saw a very clear incident in a recent Magners League game. One player committed a yellow card offence and both penalty and a yellow card were given. However, the victim of the offence lost his temper and
threw the ball in the head/back of the offender. The reslut was that the yellow card stood and that player was sent off but the penalty was reversed. This law can also be used for dissent to match officials and if the assistant referee has seen something the referee didn’t pick up.

The main point of these three changes is that they stand for a direct punishment of unacceptable behaviour on the pitch, whether it is a bad tackle or disrespect against the referee.

In order to improve the game from a more general perspective I want to bring in citing. In rugby, if the match officials miss an incident and it is caught on camera the player can be banned after the game. I think that this something that should be used in football as well. The main use I see for it is blatant diving in the penalty box and when players pretend injuries (some exapmles at the start http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TT0dgAa7D8o ), that is; unsportsmanlike behaviour. The main point being that it doesn’t matter if the referee saw the incident during the game, you can still be caught and punished for it.

Furthermore, I want to allow physios/doctors in on the pitch if someone is injured while play
continues. In football, we see players taking a dive, rolling around, pretending the injury is bad, ballthen being kicked out etc. Suddenly the player makes a miraculous recovery and seems to be fine.
In rugby, play continues while treatment is done on the pitch (there are a few exceptions like serious neck and head injuries). This means that the players don’t gain anything from pretending that an injury is worse than it was, in fact the team lose out as they have to play with one man less while treatment takes place. This would discourage football players to pretend that their injuries are worse than they are and the match would not be brought to stand still.

The last thing I would like to mention is goal line technology. Yes I want it! In rugby we are used to the TMO sign. We wait until the TMO has checked if a try was scored or not. This happens nearly every game, sometimes many times in one game. Not a big issue. To be fair in rugby it is usually a bit trickier to actually see whether a try has been scored compared to football where the ball some 99% of the time is either in the net or not. However, the main reason I want it for goals, unfortunately has to do with the referee. It hasn’t got anything to do with the flow of the game, being equal wherever or on whatever level you play football, or any of the other reason that FIFA seem to conjure. As mentioned above, there are referees that receive death threats for doing something that is vital for a football match to be played. We can play a game with less than 22 players on the pitch but not without a referee but who wants to be a referee now-a-days?. For the safety of the referees I want goal line technology. The use of technology works in many sports eg rugby, tennis, cricket, American football so I can’t see any reason why it wouldn’t work in football.

As a youth coach I am worried about the behaviour on the sidelines and by some players and I therefore think it is of utmost importance to deal with these issues. I think that the changes I have proposed are all easy to implement and stands for a direct consequence for any type of foul play. They would all help the referees and improve the game of football. It is my belief that a better environment on the pitch with respect for match officials will in the long run have an impact on the people watching the game. Wouldn’t it be nice if we didn’t have to have empty sections when football is played to separate home and away fans.

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