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It’s time for international referees

Written by Abheek Dasgupta


While Video Assistant Referee, or VAR, has been introduced into the game in order to eliminate poor refereeing decisions when it comes to a game’s important talking points such as goals, penalties, and red cards, there are still a lot of ways in which referees can dictate a football match in the post-VAR era. Goals that come off corners that should not have been given and other such incidents are still commonplace in today’s game. If there is one thing fans of teams in the top leagues in the world are certainly not content with over the years, it is the standard of refereeing. This can be seen by the fact that referees like Howard Webb, widely considered to be one of the best referees of his time, was routinely criticised and accused of bias.

There is no better solution to address this issue than for football leagues to allow for referees from a different nation to officiate matches in their league. Almost all the top flight leagues across the world, certainly the Premier League, have benefitted from foreign footballers and managers lighting up the stage and improving the standard of the game. By eliminating nationality from the selection process of referees, the quality of refereeing would improve, and hence, the quality of matches in tournaments across the world.

Currently, in order to officiate a match in the Premier League, one has to be a member of the Select Group of eighteen of the best English officials. Many of them who were in this group have been routinely criticised for below-par performances in Premier League matches and yet, have kept their spots for multiple seasons. It is clear that it is hard to find replacements from within the national borders, and therefore, the men with the whistle and the flags have job security unlike any in the football industry. If there was a different system that could allow for someone who is in charge of games seven seas away to be a potential challenger for a job in one of Europe’s major leagues, the members of the Select Group or its equivalent in the other major European countries would either have to up their game or find a different tournament to officiate in, thereby raising refereeing standards in the major tournaments.

LONDON, ENGLAND – AUGUST 25: Mike Dean, Referee speaks to players during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on August 25, 2019, in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Perhaps the biggest winners from such a move, however, would be referees from countries where the major leagues are amateur, semi-professional or are beset by financial problems. In such a scenario, it is impossible for referees to turn professional, which in today’s game, is necessary to be a good referee. Refereeing is an extremely physically demanding activity, as one has to be at the right position to observe every potential flashpoint and has to make lung-bursting runs himself in order to match the speed of a fast counterattack. 

Without the opportunity to fully dedicate oneself to refereeing by training for games and instead, being forced to have a day job, it would be impossible for anyone to be a world-class referee and get an opportunity to referee a major game. Such is the case with Indian FIFA-certified referee M B Santhosh Kumar who drives an autorickshaw when he’s not a referee, to make ends meet. 

Even when there is a geographical quota for continental and global tournaments, the poorer standard of refereeing can spoil the quality of the game. Young referees from countries with leagues that possess financial muscle and attract the world’s best players will also benefit, as they would now have the opportunity to ply their trade and manage tense derbies in metropolises across the globe, rather than being limited to Sunday League games between workers from neighbouring factories.

Perhaps the two biggest points any detractors of such a move would have is language and preserving the refereeing style of a country. The first one, in today’s game and today’s world, is not a concern. Major European languages have been spread far and wide across the world due to colonisation over the last five centuries. Even otherwise, people now have the opportunity to learn languages spoken in other parts of the world through tutors or the Internet. Sure, proficiency of one or more of the languages spoken in the country where one would want to officiate should be mandatory, but being born in that particular country is certainly not the only way in which one can fulfil that requirement. As a matter of fact, with teams signing players from different countries, many of who are not comfortable conversing in the language spoken in the country they are playing in, having multilingual referees would, in fact, improve communication between the referee and the players. 

referees
LONDON, ENGLAND – APRIL 27: Referee Lee Mason gestures during the Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Everton FC at Selhurst Park on April 27, 2019, in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Alex Broadway/Getty Images)

The second is a more interesting point. There is a perceived association between referees of particular countries and the way they officiate games. For example, English referees supposedly give fewer fouls and French referees supposedly give more cards. Even if there is a desire to preserve the style of officiating in a country, technology today can allow for it to be preserved. There are statistics available for the number of players’ names a referee writes down in his or her notepad, and the number of times he or she calls for a foul. Video analysis will help potential recruiters find out the kind of situations in which a referee is likely to blow the whistle and the kind of situations for which he or she would let play go on. 

One of the reasons, football, and especially club football, has become extremely popular and is followed by billions of people around the world is the fact that it allows for players from different regions to play with and against each other. This allows for high-quality sporting spectacles that naturally attract the number of people that football does. Football is probably the only sport where it is feasible for someone from Algeria or Egypt to come to England to showcase their talent and be the best footballer in the country. For the beautiful game to go one step ahead, it has to do the same with the people who take charge of the games. 


Feature Image via The Guardian


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