Refereeing Changes for Brazil 2014: Good or Bad?
Since former super ref Massimo Busacca of Switzerland became head of everything referee-related at FIFA, there have been a lot of changes. The World Cup has been no exception.
Some of these things (extra training and support, the requirement that referees be professional, etc.) have been super positive. He’s helped develop some fantastic referees.
But some of the specific changes around the World Cup have had a greater impact, which may or may not be positive. I wanted to look at a couple of these.
In 2010, the tournament started with 30 referees, not counting support teams. From the quarterfinals on, the list was further whittled to the 19 best.
This allowed for flexibility in terms of who was chosen. Referees from a country playing could obviously not be chosen, but FIFA would often not even assign referees from the same continent. It also allowed them more leeway in eliminating referees who were not at their best.
In Brazil 2014, by contrast, Busacca started with 25 center referees. On day one, that number was immediately cut to 24, when Japan’s Yuichi Nishimura had a disastrous first day, missing a dive by Fred and giving a penalty kick that decided the game for Brazil.
Even though Nishimura didn’t have a horrible game otherwise, the sheer amount of press coverage and cries from the public of match fixing would make it difficult to assign him again. He did not take another match in the group or knockout stages.
One by one, the referees had difficult matches, but they were not able to be eliminated because there just weren’t enough referees.
Wilmar Roldan of Colombia is a good example; his team disallowed two goals for Mexico in the group stages. Instead of sending him home as they would have in past tournaments, they replaced his AR with one from Ecuador. (Which I think is a good thing, actually; Roldan is a solid referee.)
The issues are being seen in the late stage appointments, as well. If the “old rules” apply, then referees like Bjorn Kuipers of the Netherlands and Sandro Ricci of Brazil are not able to take anything in the quarterfinal or past, since their teams are still in. But Kuipers and Ricci are some of the most talented and experienced referees available. Likewise, Howard Webb is refereeing well, but was the referee for the 2010 final, making it difficult to choose him.
Problem is, after those guys, the pickings get a bit thin.
It leaves the most important games to inexperienced referees from less robust leagues (like Serbia’s Milorad Mazic, who only became a FIFA referee in 2011), or referees who’ve had shaky games in this tournament (Uzbekistan’s Ravshan Irmatov, given a quarterfinal even after a poor USA v Germany game – running into a player and screwing up an advantage by not calling it back for the foul).
The thought is good – less referees but better ones – but I’m not sure it’s working the way they’d hoped.
Accumulation of Yellow Cards
Accumulating two yellow cards gets a player suspended for one game. There will only be an amnesty after the quarterfinals.
This can be pretty harsh, but the goal is to ensure fair play, and avoid having players miss the final, because they get cards in the semifinals.
Okay, fine. Harsher sanctions should prevent players from acting like jerks. Right?
But we’ve now heard from numerous sources – and seen enough games to believe it true – that referees were given a directive by FIFA to go easy on the yellow cards, at least early, because the price is so high.
This has totally hamstrung the referees. You can see the reluctance with which they pull cards, even for offenses that absolutely earn them. I don’t have the statistics yet, but I’d say first half cards are way lower than second half.
And guess what? It hasn’t stopped the players at all. The diving, the bad tackles, the elbows to the face … it’s not only gone on, it’s gotten worse, to the point that a player literally had his leg broken on a horror tackle, while the leg breaker stayed on the pitch to help his team win.
Because guess what else? Players have ears, and have heard the same things we have: They know the referees won’t card them.
For guys with experience and strong personalities – Kuipers, Webb, Italy’s Nicola Rizzoli – they can still manage the game without reaching for their pocket.
Less experienced referees get eaten alive. Either they let things go in the first half and then throw a ton of cards in the second to try and regain control, or they ineffectually try to force the players to be nice. (See Cuneyt Cakir of Turkey somewhat lamely pointing to the ‘RESPECT’ badge on his arm over and over.)
Or, in the case of New Zealand’s Peter O’Leary or USA’s Mark Geiger, they never regain control and it affects the game negatively.
Or someone gets hurt.
This is just stupid. If you’re going to put in draconian rules about accumulation that you think are too harsh, don’t tell the referees not to follow them. You’re just setting your referees up to fail. Just change the damn rule.
It’ll be interesting, after the dust settles on this World Cup, to go back and compare these changes to 2010. Did they really improve the standard of refereeing in Brazil, or did they just cause a whole new set of refereeing problems?
Featured photo: fifa.com