Champions League: Manchester United vs. Real Madrid (Knock-out Stage, 2nd Leg, Mar13)
Ad nauseam the media and social networks remind us that Nani’s send-off in the 2nd leg of the knock-out round of the Champions League by the Turkish referee was not with excessive force and that Nani certainly had no intent or any malice (deliberateness) in his challenge to qualify for serious foul play and thus a dismissal. See image file of the incident below.
The sequence frames can be seen here: http://i.minus.com/irY3AXtSsRD31.gif
A clear impression is created in the media the absence of malice/deliberateness from Nani is the only reason why player Nani should not have been send off for serious foul play. Furthermore, most commentators reason that Nani’s resultant kick with his outstretched leg to bring an aerial ball under control did not endanger the safety or health of his opponent when his boot or studs connected with the chest of his luckless opponent.
As always, The Law as a framework and start point:
LAW XII: Any player who lunges at an opponent when challenging for the ball from the front, from the side or from behind using one or both legs, with excessive force and endangering the safety of an opponent, is guilty of serious foul play.
“Using excessive force” means that the player has far exceeded the necessary use of force and is in danger of injuring his opponent. A player who uses excessive force must be sent off.
Excessive force. There lies the rub. How do referees judge excessive force?
Most media opinions pontificate, without mentioning the FIFA mandated criteria referees should consider for conditions of serious foul play/excessive force, the Turkish referee made a shocking decision to dismiss player Nani. It certainly was, if the referee’s decision to dismiss the Manchester United winger was based on the malice factor alone. However, there was no malice or deliberate intent to harm his opponent. How do we know this?
Body language and movement of Nani. As can be seen in the CLIP SEQUENCE above, Nani is clearly looking at the ball about to drop into his path — his head turned, looking upwards — and it can be reasonably assumed he is not aware of the close proximity of his immediate opponent.
Note that referees cannot speculate what a player subjectively wants to do to his opponent, i.e. the “Sorry-ref-I-didn’t-intend-to-injure” apologies do not cut mustard. Referees are not mind readers and therefor don’t judge accordingly; they only judge the external bodily actions of players executing their challenges on the field of play, and they judge what those flailing arms/hands, outstretched legs, exposed studs etc. did, or could have done to an opponent.
I mentioned above ”criteria” to judge serious foul play. Before we get to these criteria/factors specifically and what they entail, a quick sidenote to illustrate that malice, or deliberateness to harm, is but only one of the criteria to take cognisance of in judging the seriousness of dangerous play and hence a possible dismissal under Law 12: Fouls and Misconduct (serious foul play)
To debunk the camp of football followers that believe the “absence of player intent to harm (malice) should imply no send off whatsoever” we have to pose the following two-fold pertinent questions:
(1) Should player malice be the only factor/criteria in assessing possible excessive force and thus serious foul play?
(2) If not, should player malice be the most important criteria in deciding if a player played with excessive force/serious foul play?
Answer: Absolutely not. To both posed questions. Why? Below is a graphic sequence of events for those that hold the viewpoint the malice factor should be the only, or most important, criteria for a dismissal under serious foul play.
Incident (No Malice): http://i.gifeye.com/4498.gif
We have a player in the above clip doing a bicycle/scissors kick, and we can see he is, most probably, not aware of the close proximity of his opponent. And if he was aware of his opponent, it can be argued he was trying to play the ball only and not kick his opponent senseless in the execution of his overhead kick. Thus, no malice on his part — or deliberateness — to injure his opponent can be made in this incident.
As can be seen in the above clip, he kicks his opponent, in the face, 6-7 feet off the ground. Are we now to reason that there was zero danger to the safety of his opponent? Or to reason that the above kick did not, or could not have, endangered his opponent’s health seriously because one criteria is absent, i.e. zero malice/intent/deliberateness on the player’s part? Of course not.
Therefor, referees cannot look at player malice as the sole defining criteria of potential dangerous challenges. Referees have to appraise additional criteria, the seriousness thereof, and assessing whether such challenges use excessive force. These additional criteria, according to Fifa’s instructions, are
*** Angles of player movement–[right angles potentially more severe injury]
*** Extended/stiff leg(s)– [Potentially more force used]
*** Launched off the ground– [gives greater speed and potentially harder impact]
*** Actual point and/or height of contact– [more vulnerable/exposed body parts]
*** Speed/intensity of contact — [increased danger the faster the speed of players]
*** Possible malice present– [judged by player’s body language/movement]
*** Atmosphere of match? [bad-tempered, highly contested match or played in good spirit w/ good sportsmanship]
*** Opinion of the Referee– [view/angle to incident and what he is aware of, or believe to have seen]
Lastly, Fifa’s instruction in a recent seminar I attended: if the referee has any doubt, aka as “orange card” incidents: Start with red card/dismissal, and find compelling reasons to not send the player off.
Are we now so sure Mr. Turkey made such an abysmal and clearly wrong decision given all above criteria to be considered, as mandated by Fifa? Could the referee rather have decided that non-malice -and possibly the match atmosphere – be the overriding criteria?
Did the referee attach more weight to the other factors mentioned above? Obviously he did. Nani was dismissed. The Law empowers him with the words: In the “opinion of the referee” in conjunction with the FIFA instructed criteria for a dismissal under serious foul play.
It is not such a watertight, black and white, open-and-shut case as the football media has made out to be with Nani’s dismissal, and so eagerly trumpeted as such. For one, the social and news media, including most football pundits, certainly don’t inform their readers on all pertinent criteria, as instructed by FIFA, as to how referees should assess these incidents under serious foul play/excessive force. Non-malice is but one factor in the referee’s appraisal and decision-making process.
A degree of judgement, how critical you might think it is, referee Cuneyt Cakir did exercise, as empowered by Law 12 and the relevant mandated FIFA additional serious foul play criteria, and for that reason UEFA’s Referee Committee did not disagree with his dismissal decision made, overseen by the watchful eye of none other then Pierluigi Collina, present at the stadium on match night.
Professional Referee Organization created to manage officials in North America
Congratulations to the USA and Canadian soccer federations for creating and forming the Professional Referee Organization (PRO) on 6 March 2012. Their goal is simple: to set worldwide standards in football officiating. Heading up the PRO structure is English Premier League referee Peter Walton, a veteran of nearly 200 English Premiership matches since 2003.
The 52-year-old will assume the new fulltime post of General Manager of the organization. His appointment starts on April 2 and he will be based in New York City throughout the Major League Soccer (MLS) season.
The PRO will incorporate several of the new initiatives introduced last year – a referee command center in New York, the use of video analysis, real-time evaluations of match officials and in-stadium professional match evaluators.
The PRO model allows for more financial funding toward the referee program, hiring of more experienced technical staff to educate referees, increased training opportunities for officials, additional identification and training opportunities for up-and-coming officials and increased investment toward sports science.
“We’ve always understood that the development of referees is an important aspect to the growth of the game in the United States,” said U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati. “PRO is another step toward the improvement and professionalization of our top referees. With the additional resources and funding provided by the formation of PRO, we will continue to build upon the progress we’ve already made.”
Said MLS Commissioner Don Garber: “Thanks to collaborative work with U.S. Soccer and the Canadian Soccer Association, officiating in MLS made significant strides forward in the past year. The overall level of MLS refereeing is good, and the creation of the Professional Referee Organization is the logical next stage of development. MLS and U.S. Soccer proudly welcome PRO General Manager Peter Walton, who will utilize his exceptional experience as a referee and as an administrator, along with substantial resources, to help MLS achieve its vision of setting the worldwide standard in officiating.”
U.S. Soccer and Major League Soccer (MLS) took significant steps in 2011 to create a U.S. Soccer professional referee department and relocate to New York. Seven new rookie referees were introduced to MLS last year, participating in almost 20 percent of the league’s regular season games. The use of quantitative analysis and video were used to evaluate USA referees in real time at the newly constructed referee command center in New York, helping upcoming and existing referees substantially.
Approximately 45,000 new referees enter the officiating ranks every year in the United States, and U.S. Soccer Federation will continue its efforts to put more online educational resources at their disposal. A PRO Advisory Board also will be established as Peter Walton, and other members, will meet regularly to monitor the progress being achieved by referees.
Having the political will, forethought, managerial skill and acumen, a sense of pride in officiating excellence and actively supporting match officials 100% in becoming professional full-time, as well as the business acumen to formalize the pro referee structure in such a relative short period of time is an example for all countries, not least my country, headed by the South African Football Association (SAFA).
As one learned soccer scribe was quoted succinctly in an European football magazine on the still-born South African pro referee structures, dormant for the past few years:
It is essential for the credibility of the game to keep up officiating standards, but attempts to bring in professional refereeing remains stymied by a power struggle between the South African Football Association and the PSL. SAFA control refereeing and want to keep it so. But they have no money. The PSL [ Premier Soccer League] have the money to pay salaries and set up structures but obviously want the control if they are to spend the cash. Talk of a professional [referee structure] has been going on for years now with little progress. It is time SAFA and the PSL set aside their political cat fighting and work together on this urgent matter.
Let’s hope SAFA and the Premier Soccer League (PSL), the entity that manages the top two leagues in South Africa, can get their act together to follow the USA example. Soon, before this decade is out.
Missed criterias, clothing bans, triple punishment and vanishing spray
The International Football Association Board (IFAB), the lawmaking body tasked with authorizing changes and amendments to the Laws of the Game, convened for its 125th Annual General Meeting in March 2011, in Wales. Their rule changes sanctioned will come law on 1 July 2011. Up for consideration were some of the following vexing issues:
Goal Line Technology:
FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter announced that none of the ten companies which had been invited to test their technology had so far been successful in meeting the specific criteria set out by the IFAB meeting on October 20, 2010. IFAB therefore agreed to a one-year extension of Goal Line Technology tests. Blatter explained:
If you have no system which is responding to the criteria that has been fixed by this entity, you cannot just jump in.
We must first have the answer to our basic principles – accuracy, speed – which means the immediate delivery of the result – and a system that is not too complicated to implement. And we haven’t achieved these three things so far with our independent laboratory.
Therefore, it is a question of one year. What is one year? It is nothing. Just a little bit of patience is needed. But it was a very positive approach in the meeting …. and there was not one single person there, despite the fact that we had a lot of special guests today, going against the tests.
The ten systems all had to demonstrate they were 100% accurate and that they could transmit the result of a goal being scored, or not, to the referee within a second. Blatter said the issue of Goal Line Technology would be brought back to the attention of IFAB next meeting – March 2012, in London – when a final decision will be taken.
FIFA executive committee member Chuck Blazer, one of the body’s delegates to IFAB and General Secretary of CONCACAF said:
“It has got to be reliable, quick and affordable and nothing has worked at the moment. If anyone can meet that criteria I continue to be open to it. I don’t have a problem with keeping the testing open until we get something that works.”
FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke mentioned that the world governing body are “ready to pay” for further goal line technology tests. The goal-line system developed by a British company, Hawk-Eye, was not one of the tested systems. FIFA has given the British company the assurances that they are still under consideration.
Hawk-Eye, the most established technology, having already conducted stadium testing at Reading in England, declined even to take part in FIFA’s experiment prior to the 125th AGM, apparently in anticipation of the difficult testing environment. Their version of the specific technology needed a stadium environment for their cameras. Hawk-Eye remains confident its system would pass Fifa’s tests – the company is in the process of being taken over by a larger company and it will be eager that IFAB will give them some guarantees that IFAB will want to continue with goal line technology in the future.
The ten technology Companies had only a few months to attain Fifa’s criteria of 100% accuracy and relaying results back to the officials with speed – and it proved too difficult a task for them.
IFAB is made up of representatives from each of the English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland’s FAs, plus FIFA, the international governing body for football. Each UK association has one vote and FIFA has four. IFAB deliberations must be approved by three-quarters of the vote, which translates to at least six votes. FIFA’s approval is necessary for any IFAB decision, but FIFA alone cannot change the laws of the game and requires the support of at least two of the UK members.
The Welsh and Northern Irish Football Associations, which until now had backed FIFA in opposing any goal line technology, about turned their stance and are now also leaning towards supporting more tests on goal-line systems.
Fifa has announced a timetable for goal-line technology during 2011. Companies, interested in presenting their goal-line systems, need to declare their interest before 3 June 2011 to Fifa headquarters in Zurich and have to formally apply one month later with a $20,000 registration fee.
Presented systems will be tested during the first phase between September and December 2011, and all systems reporting a 90% or higher accuracy in simulated match conditions would be invited back for the second phase of testing, being conducted between March and June 2012. The second phase will be more rigorous, entailing the evaluation of the qualified systems under different weather conditions, shock resistance, immunity to electronic interference and under different types of playing surfaces. Trails will be held behind closed doors and manufacturers can choose their preferred stadium for conducting such tests.
Australia’s Ben Buckley has already offered Fifa his willingness to help out evaluating and testing goal-line technology within the Australian Football Federation. Said Buckley in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph:
“We believe the infrastructure of the [A] League is of high enough quality to give it a meaningful trial. [Australia] took the initiative on using video technology to penalize simulation retrospectively, and pleasingly you now see very, very little of that in our game. Everyone wants to see the correct decisions made by the officials, and this seems to be a way of supporting them in that.”
AAR’s during the EURO 2012:
A presentation was also made to IFAB on the use of Additional Assistant Referees (AAR’s) behind each goal line and IFAB approved the continued experimentation thereof in the EUFA Leagues and sanctioned it for the upcoming European Cup, EURO 2012, to be held in Poland and Ukraine.
The English Football Association (FA) asked IFAB to consider the use of ‘vanishing spray.’ The usage of coloured vanishing spray is common practice in Brazil and South America where officials use a spray on the grass to prevent the defensive wall encroaching on the 10-yard gap at free-kicks. The spray evaporates after a minute. The small canisters of spray are carried by referees in velcro clasps during matches. The CONMEBOL football federation was granted approval to trial the use of vanishing spray in their football associations.
Law 12 – Fouls and Misconduct : ‘DOGSO’s ‘Triple punishment’:
The punishment of players, when send off for denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity, coupled with a penalty kick if this occurs in their own 18-yard area, as well as the follow-on administrative expulsion – guilty players may have to sit follow-on matches out due to specific league rules with regard to red cards offenses) was discussed. IFAB ruled that this issue, as well as the possible usage of radio communication in the technical area should be postponed and referred them both to FIFA’s Task Force Football 2014 team.
Snoods, Undergarments and Performance clothing worn underneath playing kit:
Snoods, or neck warming scarfs and/or hoods, are to be outlawed as from 1 July 2011 under Law 4 – Player’s Equipment. IFAB also clarified and re-iterated that the colour of the increasing popular usage of performance clothing (leg tights or baselayers), if worn, must match the colour of a player’s shorts. //
IFAB TO RULE ON SNOODS AND ”ANY OTHER BUSINESS”
The International Football Board (IFAB), the sole body tasked with football law changes, is about to discuss the next round of possible changes to be effected, or not.
The games’ law-making body will meet on March 5 with Fifa and a specific topic, marked “V.1.b” on the “Any Other Business” section of the annual meeting agenda, will be of interest to referees and some football players wearing certain garments, called snoods or neck warmers.
Fifa raised health and safety concerns, citing the issue as follows:
“We want a debate whether it could be dangerous. There may be a safety issue – if for example a player was running though on goal and an opponent grabbed his snood, that could pose a potential danger to his neck,” a FIFA spokesman was quoted.
Players Samir Nasri (Arsenal), Argentinian Carlos Tevez (Manchester City) and Emmanuel Adebayor (loaned to Real Madrid) are among the adherents in the professional game wearing the snood winter accessory. Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, has banned his players from wearing them. Arsenal coach, Arsene Wenger, is of the opinion that snoods actually protect against injury, in reference to thermal characteristics of these garments on a player’s neck.
Law 4 – The Players’ Equipment, states:
“A player must not use equipment or wear anything that is dangerous to himself or another player (including any kind of jewellery).“
It is debatable how dangerous the wearing of snoods really are, given snoods are made of soft clothing and are nothing more then a warm scarf wrap-around, usually used in those countries where players play in close to zero temperatures. This argument is apart from the issue whether players should be fashionistas, or not, in today’s modern game. The use of certain player apparel – gloves – are defined and interpreted by referees, while not mentioned anywhere in Law 4, as posing no risk of injury to player and opponent. Most referees allow snoods to be worn, being of the opinion, based on their interpretation of Law 4, that these items pose no risk to players. Or do they?
They’ve all gone soft – Roy Keane, former Manchester United Captain, on players wearing neck warmers
A scarf or snood has a higher chance of getting snagged onto a cleat, a boot, a hand, a finger, an arm. There is a risk of neck injury, a very susceptible, exposed and weak body part due to the proximity of vertebra.
Though the chance is admittedly small that this might occur, the danger to players’ safety can be considerable. Parallels can be drawn to the Roman Law of Delict, where one of the defining principles of negligence can be summed as follows: If the chance of an incident occurring is quite remote or unlikely, but if does occur and then result in major/serious damage to property or person, then steps must be actively taken to negate or diminish such possibility of remote damage. In the absence of such active steps to prevent injury, a party or person can be held liable for negligence.
Although Law 5 (Decision 1 of the International F.A. Board) define the role of match officials, inasmuch that they cannot be held liable for any kind of injury a player might suffer due to a match official’s decision to “….allow or not to allow a player to wear certain apparel or equipment”, Fifa is of the opinion that player safety is of tantamount importance and should outweigh any thermal benefits – or fashion trends – of snood-wearing players.
Fifa wants to give guidance and clarity to referees in allowing these specific garments. By wishing to define Law 4 with possibly concrete examples of clothing items that should or should not be allowed on the field of play, Fifa endeavors for consistency in the exercise of a referee’s discretion. The issue of defining the Laws for clarity and consistency, whether such considerations to do so are based on player safety or uniformity, is akin to IFAB’s ruling a few years ago that “jerseys or shirts” must have sleeves.
I venture to say Fifa, couching their rationale into player safety and health terms, will have a greater chance in having IFAB agreeing with their opinion in possibly having these items out-lawed. Players, for the most part, did and still do without them, and the benefit of neck protection certainly is negligible, despite their thermal attributes. Contrast this with thermal undershorts, where the player’s leg muscles are constantly stretching and flexing due to running and kicking motions, where the player is at far greater risk of pulling a leg muscle than having a neck muscle going into spasms due to lack of thermal clothing.
There is no empirical incidents detailing injuries by opponent’s studs or body parts snagging onto thermal legging under garments, as a safety hazard, and causing thus serious injury. Can the same (soon) be said for snoods if their use become more prevalent, especially since they are close to a very vulnerable part of a player’s body, his neck? I doubt it.
In my humble opinion, neck warmers are potentially far more dangerous then their benefit as thermal wear, and certainly unimportant, irrelevant, immaterial, inconsequential and trivial if snoods are to be worn for fashion reasons on the football playing field. Ultimately, referees should adhere to the following FIFA guideline pertaining to extra equipment used: thoroughly inspect said equipment before kick-off and ascertain whether the extra equipment worn are to
(1) physically protect the player (e.g. from adverse weather elements, or from further injury during the match where the injury was sustained earlier etc.)
(2) and are, in the opinion of the referee, not dangerous to the player or anyone else.
If the above conditions are not fulfilled, then the referee must instruct the player/management of the team to do away with the “snood goods.” For good.
Mind, body & soul should be in harmony. Alas.
Belated congratulations to Spain for winning Fifa World Cup 2010, South Africa!
Since the World Cup ended on 11 July 2010 as well as my personal involvement therein, I had a long break from football … and the keyboard. Much needed. The 2009-2010 referee season was cut by almost 9 weeks to give some recuperation time for the 2010 World Cup players, certainly the shortest and busiest season experienced since I came onto the referee panel in 2003.
Time is now of the essence to get back onto the Premier Soccer League (PSL) referee panel for the 2010-2011 season, which kicked off in great style recently at the Cape Town Stadium with a double header. Newly promoted Cape Town team Vasco da Gama debut against Orlando Pirates, scored first but lost 1-2, while Ajax Cape Town got the better of Bloemfontein Celtic with almost 45,000 people in attendance at this magnificent stadium. The fan walk that worked so well during the World Cup did its magic again, with young and old showing the World Cup atmosphere certainly will not be a once-off for the mother city.
Alas, apart from suffering serious food poisoning during the World Cup, I tore a calf muscle 3 1/2 weeks ago doing some stamina (hill) reps in preparing for the obligatory Fifa fitness test at the start of a new referee season. My first serious injury in 17 years. My physiotherapist is doing wonders with the calf with numerous 5cm needles being pushed into “pressure points” to speed up the recovery. A combination of eastern medicine pressure, western medicine ultra-sound & laser treatment, painful deep tissue massage (you really do sweat on a table without ever moving a muscle!) as well as regular gym work/swimming to keep fitness & stamina levels up for the oncoming Fifa fitness test, are all doing its magic on my calf muscle. This (balanced) treatment recovery program has even my physio astounded at the recovery speed. Healthy eating via wife’s Portuguese/Mediterranean cooking… well, her food should not be underrated in this sorry escapade.
I promised earlier to do Part II, Referee Body Language. Specifically, actual exercises to hone the referee’s body language style and repertoire to communicate with players on field. It will be forthcoming…very soon. Watch this space.
World Cup match 1: South Africa vs. Mexico, Johannesburg, 11 June 2010.
I am of the opinion the Referee for the opening match between South Africa & Mexico, Ravshan Irmatov of Uzbekistan, did exceedingly well, including his 1st assistant whom correctly ruled Mexico’s goal offside. Ravshan control of the match was calm, focused, with excellent body language; he was also quick off the mark to get into good viewing angles. He did not seem flustered or nervous given the occasion. Rated currently #15 in the world, he has a bright future and if he’s consistent, will soon break into the World Top 10 Referee List. Well done Ravshan and your officiating team!
World Cup match 2: Uruguay vs. France, Cape Town, 11 June 2010:
A very good performance from Japanese referee Nashimura given some of the flying tackles during this fast, chaotic match. Well controlled, using his discretion and common sense, where allowed, to rather talk to players as opposed to be completely yellow-card happy.
Nashimura quickly took charge of the delaying tactics of the captain of Uruguay at a free kick (awarded to France) near the penalty area late in the match, cautioning the player for failing to adhere to the referee’s instruction to move the required 10-yards away.
Referee Nashimura was also spot-on with the first red card of World Cup 2010 in the 81st minute, a second yellow/caution for the hot-headed Uruguayan substitute Lodeiro due to the latter’s late, reckless lunge on his opponent. Lodeiro managed only 18 min. on the pitch.
Lodeiro, brought on as substitute in the 63rd minute, received his first caution in the 65th minute for delaying the restart of play; kicking the ball away after the whistle was blown for an infringement.
Most importantly, Nashimura looked as if he enjoyed the match, being stern when needed, but also showing a relaxed body language (and a smile!) in lesser confronting situations between the two teams. He was not too officious, correctly maintaining a balance between being firm, fair as well as approachable by grumbling players, without entertaining too much lip from them.
Despite the French coach Domonech’s complaint after the match about a possible handball to be awarded for France in the penalty area late in the match, the Laws of the game were correctly applied: If the ball did indeed struck the hand of the Uruguay defender after a shot from a French forward, there was certainly no deliberate movement of his hand towards the ball, given the speed of the ball and the distance between the two players involved.
Another very good performance from the FIFA Team officials!
Body Language of Elite Football Referees — Part 1
The best referee is the one who is seen and heard when the game or situation requires him to be seen or heard. Referees should attempt to manage the game in the background. When the players are not cooperating, the referee must then make his presence known and his message must be seen and/or heard. — USA Referee Training Program (2009)
You need to be a good communicator, not just of decisions made but equally important have the ability to get your message across to players, managers and spectators. Referees are required to remain calm, controlled and develop high concentration levels to be successful. — Ian Blanchard, ex-head of FA’s National Referee Development (2008)
A good referee need nerves of steel and a cool head … a strong personality and be able to exercise self-control, especially when provoked. You also need to communicate well with the players. If you go on the field with an arrogant, dictatorial attitude, it is very difficult to be accepted and win respect. A glance from the referee should be enough to make a player understand that he is breaking the rules. Body language is very important, especially when you cannot communicate in a foreign language. Sometimes everything can depend on the way you look at a player. – Massimo Busacca, Fifa & World Cup referee (2006)
Staying calm and focused is one of the golden rules of refereeing. – Pierluigi Collina, 2002 World Cup Final referee (The Rules of the Game, 2003)
Watching FIFA’s history of World Cup 1990 (Italy), 1994 (USA), 1998 (France) 2002 (South Korea & Japan) and 2006 (Germany) I noticed the gradual and sophisticated improvement of referees’ communicative skills over the last 2 decades, in particular body language referees utilize to control football matches. Experienced referees are often masterful in their self awareness and control over communicative body language.
However, elite referees have the advantages of natural abilities and aptitudes, helped by the experience of hundreds – or even thousands – of games officiated, as well as rigorous, regular and expert mentoring and feedback from referee instructors. Most amateur referees are committed and willing, but do not have such advantages.
There is little evidence and studies on which to base match officials communication and body language skill training. A recent review of empirical scientific literature found that there are very few articles that “specifically examine communication skills in sports officials.” (Mascarenhas et al, 2005). This shortage of research data helps to explain the lack of communication practice and training in formal referee curricula. There is a dire shortage of specific training tasks for referee communication skills.
Most elite level referees acquired their communicative skills through many years of officiating matches and, of late at the highest level, only some perceptual-cognitive specialized training with feedback. MacMahon et al. (2007) also notes there are few exercises available for assisting referees to develop more effective communication and interaction skills with players. Although the importance of communication is widely recognized and conventional referee wisdom at amateur and pro levels are plentiful, the processes and importance of certain communication displays through the medium of body language are often not well understood. The point is stressed by some scholars that future sports research should explore and examine the training referees receive in communicative skills and the use of body language.
Referee training programs at most levels of officiating tend to emphasize acquisition of knowledge of the Laws of the Game, physical strength and conditioning exercises, largely overlooking referee skills in decision-making and communication. Referees are often required to perform at a high level in a complex and dynamic match environment when only partial or incomplete information is available to them due to various factors (angle of view, split-second decisions, non-availability of video replays etc.). Blowing the whistle and calling on field fouls use to be a simple process. Not so in the modern game, as successful performance (to stay in the top officiating panels) is typically dependent upon the ability of match officials to work both independently and as a team in an effective manner by combining their perceptual -, cognitive -, motor – as well social skills.
At all levels, referees execute and communicate their decisions under stressful match conditions. The stress factor ratchets progressively higher as referees themselves get promoted to top officiating structures. Stress is omni-present due to, in no small part, ever-present video broadcasts and the financial stakes involved. Even at amateur levels referees don’t escape from stress. As David Elleray, Fifa & EUFA Referee Instructor succinctly noted:
“Every time the referee blows his whistle, he upsets half the players and roughly half the crowd.”
Referees frequently debate the most effective techniques and each have an opinion about the best way to communicate their onfield decisions. Conventional and well supported referee wisdom dictates that referees should execute and communicate their decisions calmly, and that a brief explanation of decisions in certain circumstances improves player reactions. Take for instance the act of displaying a yellow card (caution) to a player and the apparent conflicting views expounded by various referees …
The different approaches above reflect the complexity of human interpersonal action and individual differences in referees personalities, experiences and beliefs. It could be argued that in different circumstances each approach might be the best or the worst to adopt. But the different approaches also illustrate what Mellick et al. (2005) called the variable “hidden curriculum” referees rely on to develop their communication skills.
This hidden curriculum is based on personal experience in and outside football, and advice from refereeing assessors, colleagues and mentors, not all of whom are always experts. The advice referees receive about appropriate use of tone, gesture and talking with players is largely based on hearsay, and often conflicted. Some referees advise a personable style with a focus on respect for players, others recommend a terse style with a focus on detachment and maintaining their authority (Simmons, 2008). Complicating the issue is the referee’s endavour in displaying a calm body language whilst dealing with players and onfield problems – a difficult skill to learn at best.
Why then is communication skills and body language so important in the world of refereeing? Swiss sports psychologist Mattia Piffaretti, tasked by the European Football Association (EUFA) to help Elite referees on this matter, has this to say:
“Part of the art of good refereeing is finding the right balance in decision making, communication and discipline. A referee’s use of body language can establish relationships on the field with the players, while also remaining in control of a match. It can show confidence, calmness, firmness, authority, or even the referee’s human side if a player is injured, for example.”
“Referees use body language to enhance performance, show leadership, enhance game management skills such as mediating and creating a connection, and to win trust and respect from players. Body language should be changed to suit the situation. It is a form of communication; it needs to be natural and fluent.
“But you have to make reasonable use of body language, because players might start to perceive you more as a friend than as a leader.”
“You don’t have to show off or exaggerate. You have to use the right quantity and quality of body language – otherwise you will force yourself into a character which you were not, and players will perceive this. You have to remain yourself.”
Piffaretti identifies four key reasons why referees’ body language is such a crucial part of their communication skill.
(1) Body language skill transcends language barriers;
(2) It’s very useful in a noisy match environment where verbal communication can be difficult;
(3) Body language can have an immediate effect, reducing the need for a referee to stop a match to address an issue verbally.
(4) Sometimes it’s difficult to address players’ emotions in words, so the referee can use gestures instead.
Studies show that we communicate roughly 55% through body language, 38% through the tone of our voice and 7% through the actual content of what we say. Referees in the top echelons of officiating know that body language, in addition to player-management, are central to effective refereeing and quality football.
Simmons, in a recent study presented to Fifa’s Scientific Committee in 2008, underscored the importance of communicative skills for referees. The conclusion reached (inter alia) is that proper communication skills influences player perceptions of fairness and correctness in referee decisions and referees will benefit from their understanding and mastery thereof. I will come back later to Simmons insightful study, sponsored by the João Havelange Research Scholarship. It should be made required reading for all upcoming and experienced referees.
However, Simmons is also quick to note that for some players, who are intoxicated by revenge or rage (or substance!), referee communicative skill will have no influence, but that generally referee sensitivity to players and situations are doubtless important.
Referee Andy D’Urso (above) awarded Middlesbrough a penalty kick due to a foul committed by Dutch defender Jaap Stam. Upon awarding the penalty kick, five Manchester United players (Jaap Stam, Roy Keane, Nicky Butt, Ryan Giggs and David Beckham) chased D’Urso to object the decision; the resulting video images were freely circulated by the media. D’Urso himself offers a solution, with the benefit of hindsight:
“It was my first season in the Premier League, my first time refereeing Manchester United and my first time at Old Trafford. With more experience I would have stood my ground. I kept saying “go away”, but the further back I walked the more they walked on. A more experienced referee would not have retreated.” See the video.
In part 2 I will soon give some pointers on what communication tools the referee has at his disposal and how to use these tools to the best advantage in controlling a match.
PS: I have just been informed I am to officiate the 1/2 Final of a knock-out competition. So much for thinking my season came to an end, so match preparation will start in earnest.