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IMHO – a South African Football referee's view

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Referees Dishing out GREEN CARDS for Good Behaviour

REFEREES GOING GREEN


As reported recently by the Italian newspaper La Stampa, the Italian SERIE B division, the tier below the SERIE A professional division, will add the green card to the arsenal of cards a referee could possibly flash to onfield players. To reward players who commit acts of good behaviour. Yes. Read that again: a reward ….

Now, having received the OK from EUFA, the football powers in Italy is running an experiment where Italian footballers will soon be able to get a different kind of recognition from referees, apart from the established expulsion (red card) or caution (yellow). A card, coloured green, is to be shown for good sportsmanship and any other “acts of virtue” on the football pitch.

Ramos sent off

Players have long been accused of cheating. The act or ploy of diving and going to ground to simulate a foul in the hopes of conning the referee if there is no – or slight – contact from an opponent, and thus “earning” a foul or penalty is a pet hate by many a watching spectator.

According to Italian officials, the green card idea is to “highlight those players who help to make the game a sporting event and not a battle by primal instincts.”

Mmmm. Colour me a green skeptic. The green card system will be introduced this weekend (first week of Sept. 2015) in SERIE B in a bid, among others ideals, to stamp out diving incidents.  Some commentators already predict the green card system will catch on like other recent innovations; goal-line technology and the spray-marking the grass where defenders must stand during free kicks.

There is no in-game reward for earning a green card, but the player’s name will be noted and a player list  “You-are-in-the-ref’s-green-book” will be compiled at the end of the season.

The green card is a policy to counter the increasing unsporting behaviour witnessed over the last few years. The  “win at all cost” mentality is certainly part to blame for this general malaise in football where players are showing increasingly disrespect to opponents and match officials alike. It must be said referees have a great responsibility in the upkeep of football’s image and sporting principles and, at times, match officials simply fail in their duty in using the existing Laws of the Game to eradicate or lessen such negative witnessed behaviour.

The fact, too, that coaches keep silent when they see their players guilty of such cheating acts, whether diving (simulation) or any other, with usually a tacit grin & nod if their player earned his team a penalty in the process, is certainly a contributing factor why we have not seen less of such on televised games beamed the world over. Unless coaches actively discourage these deceitful acts, it will continue.   (Here’s looking at Bayern Munich & Netherlands’s international Arjen Robben.)

The green card was first adopted in Italian youth leagues via EUFA’s instruction to promote and reward Fair Play as an experiment, but this is the first time the green card scheme will be used at a higher professional level; and it could spread to other professional leagues if EUFA has their way pending assessment reports from SERIE B.

Green cards can be earned for such actions as kicking the ball out of play to stop play when a player is injured (before the referee has halted play), helping the referee make a correct call; and, peculiarly, admitting to having taken a dive in order to win a free kick. Admitting to diving/simulation? A rarity indeed.

There was a notable incident years ago. Liverpool’s Robbie Fowler and Arsenal’s goalkeeper David Seamen springs to mind. However, the match referee did not believe Fowler’s confession that the latter was NOT tripped by the Arsenal stopman.

Diving was previously defined as “unsportsmanlike” behaviour. Since replaced as an act defined as “simulation” under the “unsporting behaviour” section of the Law 12: Fouls and Misconduct, it is, given the wording, a “must-give” yellow card. That is, the referee has no choice but to caution the player if he reckons it was a simulating act.

Diving it is also commonly referred to as “gamesmanship.” The latter an euphemism in my not so humble opinion. I call those guilty of such acts simply cheats.

I was at pains stamping out such shameful acts during my career, notwithstanding the fact that I have called such simulation acts completely wrong after watching my own video self-assessments. But this was a rarity; the odds were, roughly, out of every 10 yellows shown for simulation, 1 was incorrectly judged to be so.

Hint: school yourself on the subject of reading body language; it’s a dead give-away identifying such simulating acts. I have already written helpful pointers for upcoming referees on this very subject earlier in this blog. Pointers that I found valuable in my career.

But the message was loud and clear during my watch; players rarely want to ire a referee whom has a reputation for not tolerating such onfield conning ploys.

Consider the possible application and ramifications of this new system. A player receives a yellow card, adjudged by the match official to have dived in his opponents penalty area.  He admits to his shameful act, how rare it might have been in the past. All good showing the green card after the mandatory yellow, not? 🙂

Say the referee was indeed conned by Mr. Shenanigans. The referee awards the “penalty.” It is taken by his team. The selfsame player gets a guilty pang ( I must stress such acts are very rare,) and he now wants to confess AFTER the penalty kick was taken. One can clearly foresee here that the heretic will, in all probability, not approach the referee to get his green badge. The option to wash his “sin” certainly is available publicly via the referee’s green card, but I am not convinced that this will have any significant impact on players in spilling the beans on a regular basis to stamp simulation out.

However, do remember the recanting player’s “act of virtue” must be done BEFORE the restart of the next phase of play (the actual taking of the penalty) for the “foul/penalty” to be annulled, if the referee was hoodwinked. A referee can not change his decision once he has restarted the next phase of play (taking of the penalty kick), according to the current Laws of the Game.

The opposing crowd is likely to take a dim, unruly view on the confessor “coming green” much later in the match too, given  the sinner’s act being the very reason why the opposing team is now a goal short. It’s rare for players even in the newspapers post match – and away from the heat of the battle and the hostile opposing crowd – to admit they have actually conned the referee and thus getting some degree of belated “absolution” in the print media for their honesty, if ever so quizzed on their act of controversy.

Now, do the referee dish out a green card ONLY if a player’s confession was done before the match official restarted play, but none if the confession was a belated one, and offered minutes later during the match?  Rooting out simulation, in such scenarios, seems rather unconvincing to me.

Again, referees simply have to throw the Law book at players and be more vigorous in their dealings to caution such behaviour. The tools to eradicate diving are in the Law book.

There is a prescribed punishment for them, a caution. Football Confederations – and IFAB, the ruling body tasked with the officiating Laws – simply have to keep on giving clear directives to clean the game of this blight. And do take referees off the various panels if certain match officials consistently fail to abide by IFAB instructions.

I doubt that even a financial reward and bragging trophy attach to the green card system will entice these multi-millionaire players to confess in droves. One awaits the assessment reports to see the benefit and exact impact of this experiment.

One can also imagine the football administrators having a field day subtracting green cards from a player’s yellow/red cards received at season end to determine the most pious player in their league.

Furthermore, I doubt the green card is going to be more effective in stamping out cheaters, given the current (evolving) administrative system by some football leagues where, retroactively, players are being cited and suspended if caught diving on match video review replays.

Roy Keane

There’ll be a yellow card, a red card and now a green card, specifically designed to reward good behaviour. What next, a sticker for kicking a ball? “

In my opinion, the green card is quite superfluous. I will be surprised if the green scheme will, suddenly, eradicate or diminish such ills. It is, foremost, up to referees to do their job properly, with a helping hand and concerted campaign by team coaches to lessen such behaviour.

Since football’s yellow and red cards are by themselves not preventative measures, but retrograde punishment for an act deemed unsporting, or for serious foul play, behaving sportingly onfield is easily noticed – and clearly seen – by every spectator. This has been so for decades without the referee getting into the counter-balancing act of being seen to, officially and publicly, reward such confessing sinners.

What’s wrong with the current – and effective – practice where the referee simply thanks the player for his sporting behaviour onfield? Such I have uttered many times in my career in acknowledging players’ sportsmanlike behaviour. It is up close, a personal comment directed at the individual and certainly to be appreciated to a greater extent by the player. This is and was the practice for some decades now. Adding a green badge to the above current practice seems rather… silly, if you ask me.

Is there really a need for the referee to show the green card to, possibly, up to twenty different players because all team players – and possibly some substitutes too –  actively tried to stop a violent brawl among two opposing, fighting players? Or trying to help disperse an unruly bunch of spectators who have invaded the playing field for whatever reason?

One wonders what hard man and ex-player Vinnie Jones might think of such a feel-good, Noddy-Green-Badge-gimmick-scheme, conjured up by the football confederation EUFA.

Vinnie Jones grabbing the nether regions of a player

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Referees need glasses!

Ghost goal in Hoffenheim vs. Leverkusen sparks debate for referees to possibly wear Google Glasses

 

Stefan Kiessling of Bayer Leverkusen scored one of the strangest goals in football with a header that went through the side netting.

Playing against Hoffenheim in the German Bundesliga, Leverkusen’s Germany international Kiessling headed a corner wide of the near post, and could be seen turning away in frustration before Brych awarded the goal. The ball continued its trajectory through a hole in the side netting, unseen by almost everyone, eventually settling inside the goals. Whether the hole in the net was there prior, or whether the ball snapped the side netting lattice, is not clear.

Leverkusen’s players celebrated the goal and even Hoffenheim’s defenders looked dejected as they thought it was a valid goal. Replays clearly showed the contrary. Stefan Kiessling failed to admit — or was confused despite a centre circle consultation with the match referee — that his header had flown wide.

German Bundesliga match, Hoffenheim vs. Leverkusen
The ball about to enter the side netting in the German Bundesliga match, Hoffenheim vs. Leverkusen

Fifa Referee Dr. Felix Brych stood by his initial decision to award the goal, much to the (eventual) dismay and shock of Hoffenheim’s players and staff. Hoffenheim slipped to a 1-2 home defeat and the result propelled Leverkusen to the top spot in the Bundesliga.

Here is the VIDEO CLIP of the incident:

Subsequent to this referee error, Bundesliga referees’ chief Andreas Rettig kick-started a debate that German officials in the future might wear glasses in the Bundesliga. However, Rettig is not proposing eye tests for the men in the middle, but the donning of Google Glasses to allow officials instantaneous on-field access to video replays before making a decision in order to help cut out referee mistakes.

Rettig is encouraging the use of available technology to help make life easier on the field and he thinks the futuristic technology – or a variant of it – would be ideal for helping officials with their decision making.

Bespectacled match officials could become the norm if German Bundesliga referee’s chief Andreas Rettig gets his way
Bespectacled match officials could become the norm if German Bundesliga referee’s chief Andreas Rettig gets his way

“Basically, we are always open to new technological innovations, but it is also clear that we need to address the fundamental decisions more carefully.

 “[We should think about] computer glasses for referees, such as Google Glass. When we think about technical progress, then we must take the next step to discuss whether the referee could wear glasses to see what everyone sees viewers on the couch. There a strong argument against the video evidence, namely that the referee’s authority on the pitch would no longer be overriding. But if the referee [when reviewing incidents on Google Glass] was not relying on anyone or anything external, then he could accurately assess the scene immediately.”

Google Glass is a wearable computer that looks like a pair of spectacles, with an optical head-mounted display that allows wearers to access real-time information displayed in front of their eyes.

“Glass” is a kind of projector that projects a visual layer over reality (augmented reality) directly onto the wearer’s retina and it will, according to internet search engine giant Google, become commercially available to the general public in 2014.

The main element is a semi-transparent prism. Google Glass is a technical masterpiece of innovation as it combines a video camera, phone, microphone, a central processor and even a GPS chip (Global Positioning Satellite), all housed in a very small frame.

Google Glass might not be used for a replay on every foul, or on a player’s appeal for a penalty, but it might help officials on such incidents as violent conduct. By simply swiping his finger along the rim on the housing casing, the wearer can control the video-taping and replay of such incidents very quickly. With such technology, the referee could himself request a replay to see if a punch was actually thrown, as it is at times difficult for officials to ascertain all the culprits in a big fighting melee.

Ground rules for the use of such aids onfield will be laid down by IFAB, the International Football Association Board, task with all rule changes, as they have done for specific tournaments and goal line technology.

FIFA has already announced that German company GoalControl GmbH  will be the goalline technology (GLT) provider for the 2014 Brazilian World Cup finals following a successful trial at the Confederations Cup in 2013. Prior to the start of every game, the match officials will also carry out their own tests on such equipment, in-line with the operational procedures approved by the International Football Association Board (IFAB).

GoalControl demonstrating the near instantaneous decisions of their technology

GLT will be the forerunner as a technological aid for football officials and it probably would have spotted the above mistake in the Bundesliga match. Whether future aids (e.g. Google Glass)  might be utilized to assist referees in quicker and accurate decisions on-field as mentioned by Andreas Rettig, only time will tell.

However, all future change, as with the existing uptake of goal line technology,  started with a debate. And the debate has started anew.

Google’s co-creator, billionaire Sergey Brin, showcasing the revolutionary Google Glass in 2012
Google’s co-creator, billionaire Sergey Brin, showcasing the revolutionary Google Glass in 2012

The Complete Elite Referee – SAFA continues to miss the boat

“Nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come” — Victor Hugo

Image

South African football supporters complain bitterly about the non-improving national football referee skills, and they continue to do so at an increased crescendo.  The South African Football Association (SAFA) has done little to nothing to improve the part-time amateur referees’ lot. Specifically, the attention to PSYCHO-SOCIAL variables in attaining & striving for professionally competent and complete elite referees are severely lacking, and continue to lack.

The “Complete Elite Referee” can be defined as an individual who has achieved optimal balance between technical (20-30%) and the psycho-social (70-80%) dynamics.

Technical Variables (20-30%):

(1) Knowledge of the Laws – textbook knowledge;
(2) Interpretation of the Laws – differentiation between the letter & spirit of the Laws;
(3) Application of the Laws – possession of natural affinity for the job;
(4) Physical fitness – athletic ability of meeting/surpassing the physical demands of the job.

Over the years, SAFA spent 95%+ effort in trying to improve the above variables while hardly recognizing or improving the skill-set of the following major factors to attain the ‘Complete Elite Referee.’

Psycho-social variables  (70-80%)

(1) Confidence & self-esteem – able to stand proud under intense public/ media scrutiny and criticism.
(2) Honesty & integrity – impeccable track record of non–allegiance and strong principles of professional independence of thought.
(3) Man-management skills – able to deal with deviant behaviour without relying always on the Laws of the Game but on people skills as well.
(4) Stable social life — individuals able to form and sustain social relations both within a family and society at large.
(5) Stress management – able to shut out personal challenges & maintain focus.
(6) Pressure management – able to withstand and cope with media/player/spectator and other external influences.
(7) Ability to work within a team.
(8) Personality – instilling trust and confidence in colleagues.
(9) Professionalism while on duty – upholding the correct image of the officiating code.
(10) Train-ability – the referee must be amenable to development advice.

As clearly shown, not only are the psycho-social variables more numerous than technical abilities, but they also speak to higher order demands on the psychological and social entity of the aspiring Elite Referee.

Demonstrably as legio examples will show,  a referee who has no or little synergy between the above two sets of variables simply cannot handle the rigors of top level competitive football.

To continued bewilderment, SAFA as custodian of referee development,  concentrates for years now on the first set of variables, to the exclusion of the second set of dynamics.

Zero synergy between these sets of dynamics also results that most South African referees will lack — and continue to lack — top level referee skills in the foreseeable future. What to do? The solution is utterly simple:

(1) Improve and concentrate also on the 2nd set of major variables, skills and attributes of aspiring Elite Referees.

Polishing at most 30% of attributes influencing referee skill is — and continue to be — a recipe for disaster and disaster management.

(2) Ask the referees what they want and implement their solutions to their voiced problems! 

Stands to reason you would think, not? Alas!

If the above ‘referee  policy’ extract seems familiar to some, let it be known that it was, as integral part of a referee policy concept document presented to SAFA. As far back as 2007, from concerned National Referees Panel members and their then representatives, to SAFA’s National Referee Committee (NRC). With no result.

fifa-referee-training

An objective analysis of how various administrators in this country handled refereeing affairs reveals a stark contrast between their school of thought and the exposition of the Complete Referee above.

Furthermore, the pressure that comes from societal expectations of a referee who “appears on TV” may inhibit adequate performance for a referee who, given South Africa’s specific socio-economic background, happens to be struggling financially. Or whom stays in an informal settlement dwelling that belies his status as a local “celebrity.”

This is an aspect directly linked to the psychological variable of self-esteem. Simply put, a happy and content referee will give the best performance. A referee will be content when he is made part of the process that dictates his career path; when he is a meaningful participant in all related referee fraternity activities.

It is common knowledge — and the author’s unequivocal experience in a decade plus at the top level of South African refereeing  — that all previous and current  administrators of the various SAFA referee structures have tended to regard referees as ‘bird-chicks’ whose mouths are forever open for anything the ‘big bird’ shoves down open mouths, whether palatable or not. A top-down rather then a bottom-up managerial style.

Yet, amongst the top level South African referees over the years, there were always highly qualified intellectuals, some of whom have been more qualified in management and leadership then their leaders. The referee fraternity has been graced by the membership of lawyers, accountants, pilots, school principles, teachers and other highly competent individuals holding management positions at their work places.

The collective wisdom and leadership acumen of these people were seldom, if ever, tapped into by the various SAFA referee structures, let alone receiving recognition.

There has never been a SAFA-accepted administrative and management policy framework, despite such a policy framework presentation to SAFA , a framework that (in the past) was created BY the referees FOR the referees, upon which administrative and managerial future actions could be premised. Hence the clamour for a professional referee charter within the fold of the Association, a groundswell that many countries have taken up where acumen of political will and managerial skill is in no short supply.

“I started an amateur and retired an amateur” — Former South African FIFA Referee, Ace Ncobo

Needless to say, any organisation governed according to subjectively created precedents — in the absence of clear referee management policies, precedent dictates actions — will not have a healthy corporate governance record.

Thus, the referee governance culture of SAFA is, essentially, counter-productive in the quest to achieve optimum professional levels of performance the referees are certainly capable of.

There are no short-cuts in top level referee development. SAFA either lacks managerial skill and political will to remedy the situation, or worse, could not be bothered.

South Africa has the best developed pro football league in Africa. Sadly, the inconvenient truth (and paradox) is complete referee development is still non-existent.

It is self-evident that SAFA’s  current elite referee development policy of getting the Premier Soccer League’s (PSL) national referees together twice-yearly, for a “polish-up” seminar on such technical dynamics — dynamics that are only 20-30% part of an Elite Referee’s make-up — will not magically instill any higher level of professional standards in officiating. Professional standards the game of football in South Africa deserves.

"Coaches were back in office to prepare for the new season two months ago. The officials went for assessments and fitness tests with only two weeks left before the season kicked off. Now what kind of outcome should we expect?" Ex-Fifa Referee Ace Ncobo
“Coaches were back in office to prepare for the new [PSL] season two months ago. The [match] officials went for assessments and fitness tests with only two weeks left before the season kicked off. Now what kind of outcome should we expect?” Ex-Fifa Referee Ace Ncobo, Aug. 2013.
The result of SAFA’s short-sightedness in not having a holistic approach to complete development of the aspiring elite referee is utterly predictable: most South African referees will continue to lack much needed top-level officiating skills. Indefinitely.

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Referee Body Language – Part 1

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.

Referee Roberto Rosetti of Italy using his personality, presence and body language to handle a protest from French captain Zidane (Spain vs France, World Cup 2006)

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.

"Sometimes everything can depend on the way you look at a player."

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 …

you can’t issue a card unless you have a very good reason for giving one. Some referees just issue them like confetti and it can get frustrating for players when they don’t know what they get it for. By saying to a player “your being cautioned for this” your explaining you know the LOTG [laws of the game] and that his actions are unacceptable and all players are warned that if it occurs again they will receive the same punishment!

… a simple one line when issuing a card is sufficient, it gives understanding and complete openness … trust me if a player has a go at you and asks you a question, those referee who don’t respond or completely ignore players often struggle to control games … communication is such a big thing in any sport and it is paramount that, as referees, we keep communication lines open and don’t just “pick and choose” when we communicate with players using our tongues! By doing this it slows the match down and takes the heat out of the situation.

Personally, the less you say the better in my opinion. They’ve committed a foul worthy of a yellow card so they know what they’ve done. Anything you say will incite them, especially if you manage to say the wrong thing. I show the card as I’m walking in from where I was. Simple technique. (Ausref Forum, 2007)

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.”

Swedish referee Peter Fröjdfeldt showing empathy (Germany vs Portugal, World Cup 2006)

“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.

It seems no amount of communicative skill would have “saved” referee Andy D’Urso from being chased around the field given the verbal onslaught from United captain Roy Keane & company. (Manchester United v Middlesbrough, 2000.)

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.

Until later…


Fifa 2010 World Cup Referees – a photo list

Massimo Busacca (Switzerland, rated #1, born 1969)
Roberto Rosetti (Italy, rated #2, born 1967)
Howard Webb (England, rated #3, born 1971)
Jorge Larrionda (Uruguay, rated #4, born 1968)
Frank de Bleeckere (Belgium, rated #5, born 1966)
Wolfgang Stark (Germany, rated # 9, born 1969)
Hector Baldassi (Argentina, rated #10, born 1966)
Carlos Amarilla (Paraguay, rated # 12, born 1970)

Note: Amarilla will not officiate in the 2010 World Cup due to one of his assistant’s failing his fitness test – see here.

Alberto Undiano Mallenco (Spain, rated # 13, born 1973)
Ravshan Irmatov (Uzbekistan, rated #15, born 1977)
Oscar Ruiz Acosta (Colombia, rated # 16, born 1969)
Benito Archundia (Mexico, rated #18, born 1966)
Martin Hansson (Sweden, rated #19, born 1971)
Eddy Maillet (Seychelles, rated #24, born 1967)
Marco Rodriquez Moreno (Mexico, rated # 25, born 1973)
Jerome Kelvin Damon (South Africa, born 1972)
Yuichi Nashimura (Japan, born 1972)
Joel Aquilar Chicas (El Salvador, born 1975)
Michael Hester (New Zealand, born 1972)
Peter O'Leary (New Zealand, born 1972)
Viktor Kassai (Hungary, born 1975)
Pablo Pozo (Chile, born 1973)
Olegario Benquerenca (Portugal, born 1969)
Stephane Laurent Lannoy (France, born 1969)
Carlos Eugenio Simon (Brazil, born 1965)
Carlos Batres (Guatemala, born 1968)
Koman Coulibaly (Mali, born 1970)
Mohamed Benouza (Algeria, born 1972)

Note: Benouza will not officiate in the 2010 World Cup due to one of his assistant’s failing his fitness test – see here

Kahlil Al Ghamdi (Saudia Arabia, born 1970)
Subkhidden Mohd Salleh (Malaysia, born 1966)

EDIT: 27 May 2010 — Martín Vázquez from Uruguay has been announced as replacement for  Amarilla’s Paraguayan team. Fifa will not call in a replacement for the Benouza (Algerian) trio of referees.

Referee Martin Vazquez (with assistants Carlos Pastorino & Miguel Nievas, all from Uruguay) was called in by Fifa to replace the referee trios headed by Amarilla & Benouza.

The above 2010 FIFA World Cup middle referee  list is provisional. Provisional in the sense that they all must pass their final hurdle, a fitness test. The World Cup African contingent of trios/referees will be evaluated at my hometown Coetzenburg Athletics Track, Stellenbosch, on 8th May under the auspices of South African FIFA co-ordinator Carlos Henriques.

For a list of all the World Cup assistant referees, see here.

We are not gods.  We make mistakes. — Swiss referee Massimo Busacca to Greek player Basinas (Greece vs Sweden, Euro 2008) – see the critically acclaimed film, Les Arbitres.

Coetzenburg Track, Stellenbosch, South Africa

The FIFA World Cup is the biggest test an international referee will ever face, both professionally and personally. Of the 29 referees representing 26 nations (Uruguay, New Zealand & Mexico have 2 middle referees each) taking charge of the 64 World Cup games in the month-long tourney in South Africa, 10 are from Europe, 6 from South America, 4 from Asia, 4 from the CONCACAF region, 3 from Africa and 2 from New Zealand. Each referee has his team of two assistants who have worked with him over many months in various FIFA international and Association tournaments, their performance and fitness constantly being monitor by the FIFA Referee Committee.

During the tournament, the referees and assistants will be swathed in a protective blanket of security, locked away from the world’s prying eyes at a luxury hotel where they will be provided with a continuous healthy diet, sports psychologists to boost their confidence and video technological tools for briefing/debriefing to allow them to study the strengths, weaknesses and favourite ploys of the teams they will be officiating.

It has been a 3-year+ journey for all the pre-selected World Cup referees and after many reductions on the final referee list, countless fitness evaluations, workshops, aptitude tests and constant health & diet monitoring , these are the men that FIFA trust to control the greatest sporting event on the planet.

I wish all the above FIFA referees, assistants (and their families) the very best and may your dreams be fulfilled!

Have a great Whistle & Flag!

Referee Busacca voted tops in 2009

International Top Referee List for 2009

Swiss Ref Massimo Busacca voted the top match official for 2009

Swiss Referee Massimo Busacca has been voted as the top international football official in the 2009 IFFHS list, garnering 225 criteria votes.  Runner-up on the 2009 list is Italian Roberto Rosetti with 147 votes. He topped the list in 2008.  Third is English referee Howard Webb with 52 criteria votes.

All three referees are in the final group for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and are expected to officiate in the tournament that starts on 11 June.

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