Date: 17th March 2011 at 10:47pm
Written by:

In a sense the modest one match ban and fine handed out to Arsene and Samir after being reported by Swiss referee Massimo Busacca for being nasty to him in the tunnel after the 2nd leg of the CL game against Barcelona is a pyrrhic victory. Especially considering that Wenger subsequently described Uefa as an ‘arrogant dictatorship` an offence that might have brought punishment itself but for which no action will be taken. Reportedly Busacca was the more aggressive party but Uefa claimed that it wasn`t possible to take any action against him. Retaliation, when on the pitch, is usually seen as the greater crime by referees but they live under strange laws for which respect must be accorded them even if they are clearly total clowns.

As a principle that has to be right but in practice it allows moderately skilled and modestly trained people to become so full of their own self importance that they lose sight of their need to respect the game that pays their salaries and expenses. Too often the impression given is that the game is there to pander to their egos when the best interests of the game are served the more anonymous they are.

Peter Hill-Wood described Uefa as ‘difficult people to deal with` and they certainly have their heads firmly buried in the turf when it comes to looking at ways of improving the officiating of games. Where other sports have been open to changes, such as the limited review system in cricket, which has successfully been shown to have significantly improved the decisions umpires have made, and in the process has earned greater respect for those making the decisions, footballs governing bodies have resolutely refused to embrace any such modernisation. There may be good reasons for banning snoods though little to stop shirt designers incorporating them as all-in-ones but such decisions just furthers the impression that they are overly concerned with the minutiae of the game and not those that will improve the growing sense of injustice that many teams experience due to poor officiating.

Complaints about refereeing performances are growing with even people like Tony Pulis who, though he has benefited enormously from a benevolent view of their physical style, has called for a system of promotion and relegation for referees, though the ones he would want relegated may not conform to popular opinion outside of Stoke. Prozone is a computer system that monitors on field activity in a variety of ways which is chiefly used as a coaching and tactical tool for managers and coaches to assess team and individual player performances. It also gathers a great deal of information about referees but the Premier League refuses to publish any information that would subject officials to public scrutiny. So the technology to measure refereeing standards exists but the authorities are unwilling to publish any data that might be collated by others to show whether officials` decision making is getting better, worse or not changing at all.

There is a suspicion that such information is being gathered and used but by betting syndicates who naturally would want to keep such data to themselves. One such independent appraisal in the public domain is being carried out by the folk over at Untold Arsenal and it`s of a standard high enough to warrant serious consideration. Serious enough to have been picked up by the BBC and commended by Professor David Forrest from the Salford Business School who specialises in the study of the sports and gambling industries. Their analysis seems to show that referees frequently get more than a third of decisions wrong.

The longer football allows itself to cling to outmoded concepts of unchallengeable authoritarianism, a concept that other sports like, cricket, rugby and tennis parted from some time ago, the less respect their officials will get and the more frequently managers like Ferguson, Wenger and many others will find themselves serving touchline bans.

What makes it a matter of some urgency is that the autocracy of the referee clearly isn’t working in earning the respect they seek. The proposed strike of match officials in Scotland leading to referees from other federations being drafted in was followed by the French Ligue drafting in officials from the lower leagues in place of match officials who had voted to delay kick offs by 15 minutes in protest at the lack of respect they received. Until football realises, as others have done, that respect has to be earned and not demanded it will not attract enough people with the strength of character, the intelligence and self belief to accept that their decisions can be publicly examined and more often supported for the greater understanding that will be encouraged.

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