Hanging Judge: Should referees reveal which soccer teams they support?

Assistant Referee Zakhele Siwela. Picture: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix
Assistant Referee Zakhele Siwela. Picture: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

The loose definition of refereeing is that, as a match official, you are there to arbitrate between two competing teams that both want to win.

The Spanish have a better name for it – the match officials are called arbitro, or arbitrator.

That’s probably a better explanation for what we do as middle men and women.

We arbitrate and resolve issues on the spot.

In recent times, there have been accusations levelled at a certain match official who is alleged to be a supporter of a particular team.

He has been accused of favouring that particular team in crucial decisions.

Accusations are flying back and forth regarding two goals that should not have been allowed as they were allegedly offside.

I didn’t watch the game or see the incidents, so I can’t comment on that, but suffice to say that, as a referee or an assistant ref, you should not be anything other than impartial in all decisions you make – regardless of who is playing or the importance of the game.

Our job as match officials is to ensure that the game is played according to the Fifa laws of the game, which are amended regularly.

It is the duty of the controlling body for referees to make sure that all match officials are unbiased and free from all external and internal influences when carrying out their duties as arbitrators.

Referees fall under the control of the mother bodies – the football associations – in their respective countries.

It is the associations’ responsibility to ensure that referees and assistant referees comply with all the aspects of “fair play” so that each team gets a “fair crack of the whip” when it comes to decision-making.

Any referee or assistant referee who feels that he/she cannot officiate fairly is morally and legally bound to recuse himself/herself from that game.

I know of some very high-profile English referees who make no bones about the fact that they are supporters of particular teams. In fact, I am aware of one particular former Premier League official who asked not to be given games that involved his favourite team.

There are two things I see wrong with this approach.

Firstly, the referee should not have divulged that he was a fan or supporter of this team.

Secondly, as a referee, you have to be able to keep your personal preferences to yourself and carry out your duties in a fair and unbiased way. If you can’t do that, you should not be a referee. You should take up some other form of sport that won’t cloud your judgement.

Referees are the guardians of the beautiful game. They have to be seen to be above reproach and not only be completely neutral in their decision-making, but be seen to be neutral. With the advent of high-speed transmissions and the video assistant referee (VAR) system, there is no place to hide.

Every move is scrutinised in its minutest detail, even to the extent that a player can be ruled offside by millimetres. Goals can also be disallowed using the same process.

How many times have we seen this play out so far? And the season is only a couple of months old.

Of course, not every country has the VAR, but is the VAR really necessary? The TV cameras are there and the technology is available.

So what’s the problem with having a qualified referee in the outside broadcast van making a decision?

The refs are “miced” up, so it would, or should, only take a few seconds to come to a decision.

Is this not the answer? If so, why isn’t it being implemented?

I guess the jury is still out on that one, but it seems like a solution from my point of view.

Happy whistling!

  • Follow me on Twitter @dr_errol


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