FIFA experimenting with two additional assistant referees.

Additional assistant referee (
Additional Assistant Ref (AAR)

 If Michel Platini, UEFA’s president is to be believed, the new experiment of two additional assistant referees (AAR’s) per match will change refereeing for the better.

“Things have not improved in refereeing for more than 100 years. I am against video technology because that will take the human face away from the game, but this system will help the referee make the right decision,” Platini ventured at a recent news conference.

Platini said the AAR’s would also help banish simulation, or diving, from the game.

“The tests we have run in private and youth matches have been very successful. Players have stopped pulling shirts and cheating because they now know they can be seen. I am very optimistic this experiment will prove to be very successful. It is not humanly possible for a referee to see the whole pitch and see everything that is happening at once. One day players will give up simulating because referees will see them.

For years players have cheated because the referees were not of a good enough quality. I am convinced if you have referees close by that will prevent players from simulating and players will take the right decision. I have always said better to have more referees than a multiplication of disciplinary procedures.”

The timeline for this (ongoing) experiment was as follows: On 8 March 2008 IFAB, the International Football Association Board (the only body tasked with rule changes & experiments pertaining to the Laws of the Game) gave FIFA permission to conduct experiments with two additional assistant referees in forthcoming tournaments. These officials are in addition to the current centre referee, his two assistant referees and the Fourth Official.

FIFA duly obliged and wasted no time in assigning two AAR’s as an experiment in the UEFA U-19 European Championship qualifiers in Slovenia, Cyprus and Hungary. In February 2009 the conclusions of this experiment were presented in a report to IFAB. IFAB then decided to extend the experiment further, and their Technical Sub-Committee was tasked with producing further criteria and protocols.

In May 2009 FIFA announced the experiment of using two AAR’s near each goal line will be conducted in the 2009-2010 season of the newly named EUFA Europa League.

FIFA launched the experiment at senior professional level in September 2009 and will continue with the experiment in all 144 matches of the Europa group stages. Another report will then be presented to IFAB after this event for final consideration.

The objectives have been spelled out as:

  1. To assist and enhance the control of a match in accordance with the Laws of the Game in certain key areas  of the field of play, i.e. particularly near and inside the 18-yard penalty area, or when the AAR has a better view then the centre referee by adding an extra pair of eyeballs near to each penalty area. The AAR tasks entails (a) to support the referee, (b) to help identify infringements of the Law, (c) to reduce match-changing errors and (d) to deter players from committing infringements.
  2. To improve the game of football.

Furthermore, FIFA notes that the introduction of AAR’s does not imply any changes to the Laws of the Game. FIFA also stipulates the final decision on all matters of the Law rest with the (centre) referee. The AAR’s are there to assist and not to insist, as per the current definition pertaining to the (sideline) assistant referees.

The AAR’s should be positioned, according to the experiment, on the opposite side (and next) to the goal, thus to the left of the goals if viewed from the centre circle. This position has been chosen to give the best field of view with the referee and his assistant each having a different angle of the proceedings. Each AAR will generally remain behind the goal line but may enter the penalty area when play moves towards the other end of the pitch so as to keep up with the action. Thus the AAR may enter the field of play, but are not allowed to pass the player nearest to the goal line, which will in most instances be the defending goalkeeper. Each AAR may also move sideways along the goal line when play is inside the penalty area in order to create an angle with the best view.

Do we now have a total of 4 assistant referees with flags, each signaling to the referee their decisions and creating a spectacle of drum majorettes with flying flagstaffs all over the place? Not according to FIFA. The two AAR will carry no flags but they will be in radio communication via headsets with the referee. The AAR’s will also wear the same kit (jersey colour) as the referee.

FIFA has also defined the criteria whom will be eligible as AAR’s. They will be:

(a)  active from the FIFA International List or from the highest national level

(b)  they must be under 45 years of age on 1 January 2009;

(c)   must be the same nationality as the referee, assistants and 4th Official.

Personally, I do like the notion of an additional aid that increase the accuracy of infringement calls, as well picking up infringements missed simply because I’m looking elsewhere. Let me rephrase that: I am all for ANY aid that will increase the accuracy of my onfield calls. 

The picture below shows (circled) from left to right, the referee, the assistant and the AAR respectively. It is clear from the positioning that each official has the potential to pick up more/hidden infringements due to different angles of view.

L-R: Ref, Assistant, Additional Assistant

 Time will tell how the AAR experiment will play out in reality. Effective communication among the officials will be a sine qua non. A few years ago the experiment of advancing 10 yards to the opponents penalty area was abandoned if players show dissent in any form or manner when they disagreed with the referee’s decision after an infringement call. The reason for this abandonment was never fully explained to my knowledge. Whether it was due to inconsistent implementation of the experiment or due to a failure in setting proper criteria/protocols beforehand remains a mystery. Or maybe FIFA was of the opinion that the 10-yard advancement experiment was made redundant by simply instructing referees to implement Law 12’s caution (yellow card) for dissent more effectively.

Any referee system that has the potential to improve the accuracy of calls and thus improving the game of football should be investigated and tested by the higher authorities, and this is exactly what FIFA is doing to appease those that are clamoring for greater accuracy via video replays and/or other aids for the referee to do justice to the “beautiful game.”

Lets hope we don’t have to wait another 100 years for the introduction of the next accuracy system in football refereeing.