Villa boss’ wish to fall on deaf ears, for fear of opening the floodgates

400x400_MartinONeillNew9Should teams be allowed to appeal yellow cards in the same way that they can appeal against red cards? Aston Villa manager Martin O’Neill has labelled this discrepancy in the laws of the game as an anomaly; O’Neill is unable to challenge the red card issued to Carlos Cuellar over the weekend for two bookable offences. At present; the only grounds on which a booking can be appealed is if there is a case of mistaken identity in regards to the recipient of the card. This of course means that yellow cards that are wrongly issued to the ‘right’ players cannot be appealed, even if it is clear that there was no infringement.

The most obvious argument in favour of allowing these appeals is that it would be fair to do so. Yellow cards can lead to suspensions and it goes against the principles of justice to enforce punishments when there has been no infringement. However a major issue in this debate is that there is little consistency in the application of the laws of game. Different referees have different opinions and the same tackle is unlikely to be assessed in the same way by all officials. There are various unwritten factors that referees may consider when deciding whether or not to book a player. These can include: the time elapsed in the match; the players involved; the importance of the match and the weather conditions. For example, in the North London derby on Saturday, several early fouls went unpunished by Mark Clattenburg and it is likely that the fact it was an intense, derby game influenced his decisions. Due to the highly subjective nature of refereeing decisions, the majority of bookings cannot be appealed and only those that appear to be gross miscarriages of justice should be allowed to be challenged.

The main reason that appeals against bookings are not heard is that allowing these appeals would open a floodgate of cases. There would be dozens of cases after each weekend and at present this would be a logistical nightmare. A case can be made against most decisions and managers would not hesitate to take advantage of a change in the rules that would allow yellow cards to be appealed. This could be prevented if penalties (such as player suspensions) were introduced for appeals that are believed to be gratuitous in nature. Clubs would have to think carefully about whether or not to issue an appeal and this would ensure that only truly contentious cases would be heard.

The option that I favour is to give the power back to the referee. If referees are required to review their own decisions after each game then this can only help improve their officiating skills. In this system, a club would only be allowed to appeal a booking if the referee acknowledges that he may have made a mistake in issuing it in the first place. This would ensure that justice is served whilst referees would not be constantly undermined by tribunals. Of course, this arrangement would only work if referees are willing to participate and acknowledge that they make mistakes.