I have thoroughly enjoyed this World Cup. Several games have been absolutely gripping. For your convenience, let us review the things that we have learned during this World Cup, just so we remember for next time.
The vuvuzela is a menace. Cheering, singing, clapping, oh’s and ah’s, gasps, chanting … these are things that create atmosphere. Ten thousand simultaneous “Loudest ever mosquito” impressions do not. Paul the Octopus, on the other hand, is a sensation.
You must introduce penalty goals. Here is how Rugby League does it: “the referee may award a penalty try if, in his opinion, a try would have been scored but for the unfair play of the defending team”. Just replace “try” with “goal”. We all know why this rule is needed. A better example couldn’t be made up. The wrong team won. Luis Suarez’s handball was, in the end, the right decision and duly rewarded. The awarding of a penalty kick is not a sufficient punishment because the defender, by his unfair play, has exchanged a certain goal for an almost-certain one. This cannot happen again.
You must introduce video referees. Video replays (either live action or Hawkeye) are used in tennis, rugby league and union, and cricket, among others. Allow me to summarise the arguments and counterarguments that these sports went through: in the end, we can either get these decisions right more often, or less often. Either the right team wins, or the wrong team. It really is that simple.
Once again, the World Cup has offered better examples than could be invented. Imagine if Germany were playing England at the World Cup, and the ball bounced two feet over the goal line, but the goal wasn’t awarded. What a nightmare that would be!
This is not a vote of no-confidence in the referee. It is recognition that the referee has a very difficult job, a job that human beings are not designed to do. The human eye works in time intervals of about 1/25th of a second. During this time, a tennis ball going at 200km/h will travel 2 metres. Tennis line judges are then asked to judge whether this ball hit the last millimetre of the service line or not. It is a near miracle that they are as accurate as they are, and the very successful use of Hawkeye is simply a much-needed aid to a very difficult task. Football referees don’t have the luxury of being able to focus on only one thing, and football games are decided by one goal a lot more often than tennis games are decided by one point.
Similarly, it makes no sense to argue that video reviews undermine the authority of the referee, or that they humiliate referees. Precisely the opposite is true. After the England no-goal, all the England players (and crowd) were all to keen to remind the referee of his mistake. As a result, when the referee emerged for the second half, having presumably seen the video evidence of his mistake, we saw a referee with a guilty conscience. And, of course, the referee and his linesmen were humiliated by the media afterward. The only way for a referee to save face in the event of a mistake is for that mistake to be quickly rectified. If the decision had been quickly corrected, no one would have remembered the initial mistake. Technicalities such as how to stop and restart the game, and whether is it the referees (as in rugby league) or the players (as in tennis) who requests the review, can be sorted out in club level trials over the next four years.
Cultivate a culture of honesty. Footballers seem to be the sportspersons from whom honesty is least expected. No one expected Henri to simply walk up to the referee and admit his handball against Ireland. In fact, such a gesture is so rare that, when it happened in 1988, the player was awarded the FIFA fair play award. On the other hand, disgraces like this are commonplace. Youtube will give a thousand more examples. It wasn’t the hand of God. It was the hand of Maradona. He won the World Cup with a lie. These incidents are to football’s eternal shame.
This has to change. It is far to easy for cynics – including potential fans (football isn’t quite the world game, yet) – to dismiss football as a game for cheats, whingers and fakers, where one of the most important skills is holding your shin and crying like a toddler. A few suggestions:
- More comprehensive post-match reviews of the game by a judiciary. Do not let offenders get away with it just because they fooled the referee at the time.
- Harsher penalties for those who deliberately mislead referees. They are not just gaining an unfair advantage for their team. They are bringing the game into disrepute.
- Fans must demand more. The most effective protest is to inform the companies that endorse a given player (e.g. Gillette) that, in light of that player’s dishonesty, you will no longer be using their product.
That is all. I’m sure Sunday’s game will be a classic.
All the best,