A fear that makes referees act the way they do?

In ancient Rome people used to say that the greatest compliment that could be paid to a woman was that she was not talked about or mentioned by anyone. I think the same rule applies to referees today. More and more referees are being scrutinized: by the fans, the media, the managers and the players. Everyone and anyone that feels slightly peeved feels entitled to constantly criticise referees so much so that they are rarely talked about in a positive light. The result of this was for the rules to become ever more rigid making it clearer for referees to understand exactly what each situation called for. However has this situation lead to a lack of common sense being used by the men who take charge of our sport?

Every sport needs rules, but the reason we have referees is because we understand that every situation is different. There needs to be some element of human judgement, but that does not mean it is necessarily used.


Billy Sharp, the Doncaster striker whose newborn son died just days after being born, celebrated his goal against Middlesbrough by lifting his shirt to reveal a message to his son. Darren Deadman, the referee for the game, did not book Sharp. This is just one of many examples of where a referee should be able to use his common sense, and he should be applauded for it. It does not happen enough.

As Paolo Bandini points out in the Guardian: Romario, on his final appearance for Brazil, revealed a shirt that said “I have a little daughter with Down’s syndrome who is a princess.” He got booked.

Take Robin Van Persie’s red card at the Nou Camp last season. Yes, to kick away the ball after the whistle has blown can be punished with a yellow card. But did the referee make the right choice to give Robin his second yellow? Maybe Van Persie couldn’t hear the whistle above the 110,000 strong crowd, maybe he could; but did he really think it was worth sending off a player in such an important match? Who knows whether it would have changed the game or not, Arsenal were playing terribly but they only needed one goal to go through.

Perhaps Massimo Busacca and the other referees who fail to act with common sense fear reprisals from their superiors, or perhaps they lack confidence within their own common sense and so refuse to use it. Either way the situation needs to be addressed.

On the one hand FIFA and UEFA give backing to their referees by saying that goal line, and other, technology is not necessary but on the other hand the referees clearly do not feel confident enough to bend the rules for the sake of a flowing game. And they should. One of the main criticisms of goal line technology is that it breaks up the flow of our sport, that it slows it down and makes it less entertaining. Well, bad refereeing is doing this anyway. FIFA and UEFA need to create an environment whereby although there are rigid rules referees are still given some level of autonomy, the last thing we need is for the rules to restricting those who enforce them.


There is no easy solution to this problem. If we accept that referees, as humans, are able to use common sense then we must also accept that, as humans, they are liable to make mistakes. But the attitude towards them from all parties can change and enhance their performance. In rugby the referee has total control, the absence of abuse allows the referees to have confidence in their decisions and if, in particular situations, they feel unsure they can consult a technological aide. The result? You rarely hear of mistakes. Of course they still happen but the difference is that in rugby they give their referee every bit of help they can. They recognise the importance of the job and the respect deserved. In football it seems we do everything we can to make it as difficult as possible, and their performances suffer as a result.

Follow me on Twitter @H_Mackay