Is the standard of officiating spiralling out of control?

Yet again this weekend the spotlight fell on the officials because of the decisions they made, especially involving red cards. It speaks volumes that in the modern game we are not surprised to be debating each weekend more than one contentious decision by a referee, usually in multiple games.

The number of red cards has dramatically risen in the last couple of years, going from an average of 45 per season since the Premier League began to in the last 5 years roughly 62 per season. The question of why this has happened must be considered – is it that players are now more reckless or indeed better at simulation to con the referee into handing out red cards like they are sweets, or is it that the officials have become increasingly happy in the last few seasons?

It seems to be a combination of both, with the influx of foreign players into the Premier League having a massive effect on the amount of simulation we see – it is now not a surprise to see players waving an imaginary card at the referee during the course of a game  – and players will actively attempt to gain an advantage by getting opposition players sent off.

It is not just the Premier League in which this happens – European Champions Barcelona can certainly be accused of simulation, play acting and ‘persuading’ the referee to send players off – all Arsenal fans will remember the sending off of Van Persie which cost them the tie, and Real fans can offer a list as explosive as Balotelli let loose in a bathroom of players who received contentious red cards in Classicos.

This season in the Premier League however, has been unprecedented, with certainly more than a couple of dubious decisions made by referees. The sad fact is that during a big game where sides are closely matched, a sending off can ruin the game and heavily influence the outcome of the match – think back to Jack Rodwell’s red card in the Merseyside derby – clearly not a sending off, and despite being overturned on appeal, the damage was already done and arguably cost Everton at least a point out of the game.

Sunday alone saw the dismissal of Jonny Evans, Boswinga and Didier Drogba, and although Evans and Drogba can have little to complain about, Boswinga certainly has a case for unfair dismissal with Chelsea arguing that JT was in fact the last man, not Boswinga and it was not even a goal scoring opportunity but as Ray Wilkins put it ‘a race that was evenly matched’. Chelsea fans could certainly be forgiven for thinking that Chris Foy has a personal vendetta against them, with only Cech and Juan Mata spared from a booking during the game, and having once sent Robben off for celebrating a goal and now sending off four Chelsea players so far this season – Alex, Torres, Drogba and Boswinga.

Dubious decisions by officials is not a new phenomenon, we can all recall Roy Carroll scooping the ball out the back of the net when Spurs had clearly scored, yet no goal was given, or Garcia’s ‘ghost goal’ denying Chelsea a place in the Champions League final. Likewise red cards that should never have been – Rodwell springs to mind here, not to mention Villa’s Chris Herd, sent off this weekend in the midlands derby with Villa set to appeal, saying ‘it was clear he did nothing wrong.’ There have also been penalty decisions that were just downright wrong – all of which can heavily affect the outcome of matches, and cost teams places in finals and trophies they otherwise may have been able to win.

The question over if it is time to introduce some sort of video technology will remain, and it seems that goal line technology is a must, yet video replays are more of a controversial suggestion. It is natural for human error to occur, and therefore surely technology may be able to help?  Whilst fans and players can eventually accept a genuine mistake, they are less willing to accept referees who make mistakes time after time and border on incompetence – the issue of a declining standard of officiating is one that must be addressed, not just in England but throughout the game, and it does beg the question of if we should introduce technology into the game in some capacity to help officials in what is an increasingly hard game to referee.