FIFA to change officiating: Two refs is the best answer

Soccer should follow hockey and go to two refs

This World Cup has been plagued by poor officiating. From the mystery foul that ruled out a perfectly good Maurice Edu winner against Slovenia, or Frank Lampard’s goal that wasn’t against Germany, or Carlos Tevez’s offside goal to open the scoring against Mexico, referees have been at the center of attention too often and for the wrong reasons. FIFA seemed embarrassed by the number and shocking nature of the mistakes, and now it looks like refereeing changes are coming. Goal line technology and two end line officals are the most commonly discussed options, but both of those would only solve one problem – goal decisions. If changes are going to be made, FIFA should address officiating throughout the game, and two on field referees will improve goal line decisions but also make the entire game easier to officiate.

Human error is part of the game for officials too. One line of argument goes that controversial calls actually help the game as it elevates interest and media attention. That, frankly, is crap. Of all the major team sports, soccer is by far the most difficult in which to score, just one moment can turn a game. The stakes are magnified exponentially when they come in a tournament as important to players and fans as the World Cup that only happens once every four years. Who knows what would have happened in the second half of England v Germany if the score was tied 2-2, but it certainly could have been a much different game.

Despite earlier comments from FIFA President Sepp Blatter that no changes were coming, FIFA General Secretary Jermone Valke told the BBC Thursday that this “is the final World Cup with the current refereeing system.”

But all of the attention on changes seem to be going in one direction – better determining when goals do and don’t occur. The options under consideration are some kind of goal line technology or the addition of an official behind each goal to watch the goal line. Clearly, those are very important decisions to get right, but they are far from the only ones that can change a game. I fear that focusing all attention on just one aspect of refereeing is a missed opportunity as more and more games are turned on one key call and that is rarely a question of whether the ball crossed the line.

Soccer is the only major team sport with just one on-field referee, even slow as molasses baseball has four. The most comparable team sport to soccer in terms of how the game moves is hockey and they recently went to two referees and it has proven a success. The initial concern about a two-referee system is that it just increases the number of fouls called and slows down the play and flow the game. And that may be true for a short period, but what happens very quickly is that the players adjust to having another official and they commit less fouls. Having two on-field match officials would increase the chance that at least one would be in the correct position to see a foul–or lack there of–at that critical moment. Obviously, you don’t want long debates over every call. But I don’t think anyone would object to the referees conferring to ensure that a penalty decision was right or a red card was truly warranted.

No system is perfect, and no many how many officials are involved in the game they are still human and they will still make mistakes. I favor a simple chip in the ball to judge whether it has crossed the line for those crucial decisions. But if change is coming, I hope that FIFA look at solutions to more than just questions surrounding the goal line and institute two on-field match referees. It would improve the game without changing it.


One Response

  1. I don’t know if an extra on pitch referee will eradicate mistakes, there will be a third and then a forth and mistakes will still happen, I advocate the use of video replays (aka Lampard’s Goal) which was clarified to viewers in seconds, I can’t see how this will disrupt the game when irate players cause the long delays by protesting decisions anyway. The ‘fourth official’ should make better use of his time to decide any issues referred by the referee.

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