In today’s world, post-match press conferences are something all of us, as fans look forward to after a game. It is only natural that some of us might have some questions after watching the game, may it be about the performances of the players, or how the manager adapted as the game went on; and I’m sure many would agree that they are not only informative but also entertaining on many occasions. Portuguese manager Jose Mourinho has earned quite a name for himself based on his handling of the gossip-hungry reporters after games, while humor found its way quite often in Louis van Gaal’s conferences, notably at Manchester United.
But what if we added a twist to this? What if the match referees were to give press conferences after a game? How would that work out? In modern-day football, match officiating has come under immense scrutiny. And with the unsatisfactory implementation of VAR in the Premier League this season, the referees have been called out by players, managers and even the commentators alike for not making the right decision. One could place most of the blame on the ambiguous subjective nature of the rules, but how much of the blame should be put on the officials?
Let’s focus on the Premier League, which gets a huge amount of media attention from the numerous tabloids in the United Kingdom. Everyone’s hungry for stories, for gossip and sometimes these newspapers are not shy to sacrifice facts for selling more copies. After all, what makes a tabloid a tabloid is content, and above all, style. All they want is sensationalism and the public call for accountability. In other words, a witch hunt. You would not get a balanced view immediately after a game when the public has seen an incident in slow motion several times, and an official may just be trying to justify a decision when being backed into a corner without the benefit of seeing the disputed incident again.
Suppose a referee gave an interview after a game and admitted to making a wrong decision, or missing a foul; how will it help? Only the media gains, obtaining more quotes to ensure that the analysis of what was said after the match gets far more coverage than what happened in the game itself. The referee might be subjected to abuse on social media and even receive death threats
In an interview on Danny Baker’s Radio 5 Live show a few years back, retired referee Howard Webb admitted that he occasionally drifted off while officiating games. While a game was on, he would start thinking about what to have for dinner that night and shortly afterward, realizing he had probably missed a foul. Now imagine him saying the exact same thing as an explanation for a wrong decision or a missed foul after the game in a press conference. You get the point.
It’s only natural that these referees have personalities of their own. One might publicly admit to his mistake and apologize to the fans and the affected team in a post-match interview while there will be others who would be as stubborn as they come and refuse to budge from their original decision. And some of these ‘personalities’ are already beginning to show how each referee is using the VAR. Most referees have been reluctant to use the VAR monitor to make well-informed decisions but some of the best, like Michael Oliver, can be seen going back to review a particular highlight before making a match-altering decision.
Consider a player who gets slandered a lot by the football community for diving. What if a top referee like Martin Atkinson or Anthony Taylor decided to go on record after a match and say. “He is the kind of player that we refs have decided to keep booking until he learns to stay on his feet.” Imagine the outrage and the slander that the officials would receive, not only from the fans but from the managers and players as well. Sadly, the game of football is so fiercely partisan that the participants and supporters don’t really want the actual facts. Bias and vested interest often make the truth an insignificant bit-part in the circus of post-match hysteria.
Even in the unlikely event that referees be required to give post-match press conferences, the Referees’ Association may well start making appointments based on who could best explain themselves after the game. And let’s be honest, that’s not how we want referee appointments to take place.
So how do we get accountability for what happens during the game? One approach could be to make statements well after the game has ended. If we all knew why decisions were given, it would help with the understanding of the situation. Even if the referee was proved wrong, receiving explanations, may educate the masses into understanding the situation from a referee’s point of view. But to thrust a referee in front of the reporters right after a game is like throwing a sacrificial lamb waiting to be massacred.
Another approach could be to mic up the referees to the viewers. We often see referees talking to players whenever a foul is given to better explain themselves. The fans can then look at the situation from the official’s viewpoint and may well be a bit well informed before they arrive at a conclusion about a decision given during the match. But again, the language being exchanged on a football pitch is not always civilized and that remains a big obstacle to this approach, with so many children glued to the television. This could improve though if players and managers learned to show more respect to the referees. Alternatively, introducing meaningful punishments for managers or players who question a referee’s integrity might help.
At least for now, referees get to keep their way of thinking a mystery. They can ignore the demands for explanation simply by pointing to Law 5: “The decisions of the referee are final.” In other words, suck it up. They’re above the law, no wait; they are the law!
Written Bhargav Joglekar
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