Uruguayan refs help Germany win; German refs help Uruguay win

Most of the soccer football world has been screaming for instant replay, at least for determining whether balls went into the goal.

FIFA’s refusal to use goal-line cameras or additional goal-line referees is inexcusable, and horrible calls have already unfairly impacted many games in the current World Cup. Just look at this non-goal by England:

England loses goal to crooked goal line

All major U.S. sports use technology to ensure the correctness of key plays. Hockey has long had an automated system for distinguishing goals from non-goals. Major League Baseball now uses instant replay on borderline home runs and potential fan interference. The NFL has a special referee in the booth with access to video from many angles. Coaches are granted several challenges per half, and the replay referee reviews plays coaches request reviews of plus controversial plays late in the game. The NBA also uses replay to get calls correct, esp. late in games:

Referees consulted the replay monitor three times in the final 89 seconds of Game 3 between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics — each time to determine possession after a ball went out of bounds. Two calls were changed. The third call was upheld.

The head of FIFA has steadfastly refused to use technology, despite a rising tide of anger. Given the frequency of refereeing mistakes and the pattern of which teams benefit and which teams are harmed, it’s hard not to suspect the FIFA chief supports the status quo because someone is benefitting from the ability of refs on the field to impact the final score.

For example, the U.S. had legitimate goals — potential game-winning goals — stolen from it in two of its three first-round matches. And this is but a continuation of a pattern in U.S. soccer’s recent World Cup history.

After World Cup defeat, U.S. coach Bob Bradley seemed to imply the U.S. team expects a raw deal from FIFA refs and isn’t surprised when bad rulings go against them:

“We’re all accustomed to the fact that, if it is an NFL playoff game and there is a call of some question, there will be a statement by the league from the referees,” he said. “But FIFA operates differently. Soccer is a different game. … There are some aspects of it that are not made 100 percent clear that seem to add to the discussion about the games. On our end, we get used to that.”

“We all have friends and family who asked us the same questions most of you [in the media] asked us. You end up saying that that’s just how it is sometimes and then you move on and you get ready for the next game.”

Do calls go against us because refs are — consciously or subconsciously — anti-American? Do calls go against us because refs look down on U.S. soccer and give more established teams the benefit of the doubt? Or does anti-Americanism in FIFA — which pays, judges and disciplines refs — encourage refs to steal a goal from us here or there? Who knows?

What we do know is that the system is completely broken and that technology could very easily eliminate the worst, most impactful referee decisions: goals vs. non-goals. We also know the head of FIFA has fought and fought and fought to prevent the use of technology.

Further, the FIFA system seems to further encourage bad refereeing and doesn’t even try to avoid the appearance of impropriety. For example, in the Round 2 match between Uruguay and South Korea, the referee and his two assistants were all Germans. The following day, when Germany faced England, all four refs were Uruguayan. Uruguay won the match refereed by Germans, and Germany won the match refereed by Uruguayan refs. Coincidence? Who knows? But the stench of potential impropriety is overwhelming, esp. after Uruguayan refs decided a clear game-tying goal by England was not a goal. In the previous day’s match, according to one observer, “Even more obvious, however, was the BLATANTLY one-sided reffing. Many petty fouls were called against Korea, while more conspicuous fouls committed by Uruguay were completely disregarded. Wolfgang Stark has a history of bad reffing including the notoriously controversial Chile-Argentina semi-final game during the 2007 U-20 World Cup.”

P.S. If referee decisions are in any way influenced by reciprocity (e.g., German refs being nice to Uruguay while Uruguayan refs are nice to Germany), the U.S. can only be hurt because FIFA doesn’t allow even a single U.S. referee to work a World Cup match.

Posted by James on Monday, June 28, 2010