Wall Street Journal Does Referees

Hungarian official Victor Kassai

First of all, how cool is it to see a feature article about World Cup referees on Wall Street Journal?

Really cool, I would say.

The piece, by Gabriele Marcotti and published on January 19, is titled:

Fine Line for World Cup Referees

Byzantine Selection Process Will Leave Top Talent Missing in Brazil

I think you can get a pretty clear sense of what the story is about, and the way Marcotti lays out the argument is convincing. Marcotti claims, for instance,  that Europe and South America are underrepresented to allow for the inclusion of referees from places like Gambia, Bahrain and New Zealand, but then goes on to clarify why this is necessary:

It’s standard practice, for obvious reasons, not to select a referee from one of the two nations contesting a game. But FIFA has often taken this concept of neutrality further and extends it to entire continents. So a European referee, for example, could only take charge of a game between two Europeans or two non-Europeans.”

To explain why the selection process leaves “top talent missing”, Marcotti uses a particular European referee as an example: Hungarian official Victor Kassai (above).

He became an international official at the age of 28 and took charge of the final of the 2008 Olympic Games a few weeks before his 33rd birthday. At the 2010 World Cup, he officiated four games, including the huge semifinal between Germany and Spain.”

This is all true, and even I was surprised that Kassai wasn’t on the list. But, unlike Marcotti, I have a bit broader view.

There’s no mention, for instance, of the fact that in the 2012 Euros, Kassai and his team were sent home early for their performance in Ukraine v. England. Kassai disallowed a clear goal from Ukraine that would have tied the game 1-1; England held on to win 0-1. (To be fair, he trusted his assistant, who missed the ball going way over the line.)

To overcome the fallout from that, Kassai needed a stellar 2012-2013, and instead he was rather inconsistent. So while it’s surprising that he didn’t make it, given his talent and experience, it’s not shocking. To suggest Kassai didn’t get an appointment because of “the rules” isn’t really the whole story.

Just like the teams, it doesn’t really matter what you did in 2008 or the last World Cup. If past reputation alone mattered, England, France and Italy would have been seeded this year, and not teams like Belgium and Colombia and Switzerland.

But those teams shone over the two-year qualification period, as did the referees on the 33-team list. Kassai, as great as his past accomplishments are and as great a referee as he truly is, unfortunately didn’t.

All in all, though, this was a great, thoughtful piece and I recommend you check it out.


  • The Ukraine goal was not a clear goal at all, they were offside in any event so it was right not to stand. Gabor Eros missed the offside which was the bigger problem, if he’d flagged for it then there would never have been the debate when Istvan Vad wrongly indicated it did not cross the line. Also to suggest Viktor Kassai was not very good last season is complete rubbish – he’s just been voted 3rd best referee in the world for 2013 and you don’t get that title by under performing. The fact is FIFA have failed to send the best referees to the tournament and the world cup will be the loser there.


    • Sorry that Viktor didn’t make it. I agree with you that Eros missed the call and his team has been a big concern about Kassai. I never said he was not very good last season, I said he was inconsistent throughout 2012-2013. I don’t know why Europe had only 9 referees; I was expecting ten, and I was expecting Kassai to be one of them. But with just nine, it looks like he got pipped by Mazic. Sad for him. 😦

      Mostly, my point was that the writer didn’t even MENTION Euro 2012. As a former journalist myself, that usually makes my ears perk up as a writer that’s trying to make me believe something by giving me all the good stuff, but nothing that might not match the storyline. It’s good to be aware of that..


  • He started to use Vencel Toth on his Champions League games in the lead up to the winter break in Europe so hopefully he will now drop Eros from his team altogether & go with Toth. He’s a much better AR, more reliable like Gyorgy Ring. Should have been 10 or 11 from UEFA not 9. Euro 2012 is the biggest black mark against his name, he was a shoe in for the final until his assistants let him down, to not mention it in an article is poor and shows no understanding of the refereeing world.


  • I really think you’re right when you say it was his team that was the biggest issue with Kassai, and I think that’s what put him on the bubble. World Cup referees are three-man teams, not just the center refs. That said, I’m sorry not to see both Viktor and Clatts in Brazil…


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