Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Rational Ref: Getting handball calls right is no easy matter

Getting handball calls right is no easy matter

The official with the whistle does not have the benefit of instant replays

When is handball not handball? When the referee says so.

On New Year's Day, there were enough handball incidents in the English Premier League to help everyone understand the definition. If only players, coaches, fans and commentators would pay attention.

For a start, it does not just involve the hand but the whole arm. The arm - the area uncovered as if players were wearing sleeveless shirts - is the only part of the body that can be penalised for contacting the ball.

The referee must first decide whether the handball is deliberate. He must consider whether the movement is hand-to-ball and not ball-to-hand; whether the distance between the opponent and the ball leads to an "unexpected ball"; and whether the position of the arm is "natural".

In Chelsea's 5-3 loss to Tottenham Hotspur, Blues boss Jose Mourinho bemoaned the fact referee Phil Dowd refused to award a penalty when they were leading 1-0. Although the ball hit the arm of Spurs' Jan Vertonghen, who had fallen in his penalty area, it was not deliberate. Dowd was correct.

Contrast this with Stoke's goalless draw with Manchester United. At a Stoke corner, Peter Crouch headed the ball which hit the flailing arm of United's Chris Smalling. Smalling had made his body area bigger by spreading out his arms - deliberate handball because the position of the arm was not natural. But referee Michael Oliver did not award the penalty despite being in a great position.

Another referee, Mike Jones, apparently saw something that did not happen. In the 2-2 draw between Leicester and Liverpool, Jones whistled Liverpool's first penalty for a handball that never was. Video replays showed the ball hit Leicester's Wes Morgan in the face. Former Leicester striker Gary Lineker called it the "worst penalty decision ever".

Goalkeepers outside their area have the same restrictions on handling. So when QPR keeper Rob Green handled outside his area, referee Anthony Taylor should have given a direct free kick to Swansea. The incident denied an obvious goal-scoring opportunity to Wayne Routledge, so Green should have seen red.

Of the four handball-or-no-handball decisions, only one was correct. This demonstrates how difficult it is for referees to make real-time decisions based on one look, while pundits and critics have the luxury of video replays.

Moaning managers don't have a leg to stand on either because when the boot is on the other foot, they remain tight-lipped, imply they did not see the incident, and gleefully accept incorrect decisions.
Brendan Rogers, Louis van Gaal and Harry Redknapp would have won plaudits for honesty and integrity had they criticised the poor refereeing decisions they benefited from.

Furthermore, it doesn't help that players and coaches scream blue murder whenever the ball makes contact with an opponent's upper body.

From a referee's perspective, there is absolutely no difference between players who dive and those who shout "handball" and "my ball" when it clearly isn't. Like diving, these dishonest claims are defined as "attempting to deceive the referee" and therefore cheating players should all be cautioned.

Agree or disagree? Contact Rational Ref at rationalref@gmail.com

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 January, 2015

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Rational Ref: Horrid acts are no laughing matter

Rational Ref: Horrid acts are no laughing matter

Match officials should not be so reviled by fans, especially when they are injured during the course of their duty on the pitch

When something unpleasant happens to match officials fans go wild with delight and reporters have a field day writing about the misfortune inflicted on the man in the middle.

This happened last weekend when EPL referee Chris Foy was knocked out for a few seconds by a ball hitting him flush in the face in the first minute of the Newcastle and Swansea match. After the Newcastle medic checked him, he continued for 30 minutes, but something was not right, so stand-in referee Anthony Taylor replaced the dazed and confused Foy.

The feelings of schadenfreude espoused by everyone watching revealed just how hated match officials are. Does this antipathy tell us anything about soccer lovers and the society we live in?

In other sports, officials are not as intensely loathed. Those in tennis, snooker and golf are not regularly mocked, jeered and abused by players and spectators when they make decisions.

Seriously, contrast the crowd's pleasure at seeing referee Foy being hit in the head and concussed to the reaction of shock over the death of a keeper in Gabon after an opponent stepped on his head. Did anyone laugh? Keeper Sylvain Azougoui suffered serious head injuries that ultimately proved fatal.
Recall last season, when Swansea City's Ashley Williams deliberately kicked the ball with full force from close range at the head of Manchester United's Robin van Persie. Then United manager Alex Ferguson said Van Persie "could have been killed". "[It] was the most dangerous thing I've seen on a football field for many years. It was absolutely deliberate. The whistle has gone, the game has stopped and he has done that right in front of the referee… It was a disgraceful act," said Ferguson.

The FA did not take action against Williams, using the feeble excuse that referee Michael Oliver had cautioned both players, which meant the FA was "powerless" to take retrospective action on grounds of "re-refereeing" an incident.

Had Van Persie suffered a broken neck or even worse, it is certain action would have been taken against Williams, regardless of whether the referee had already "dealt with the incident".

A recent study showed that heading the ball is associated with clear risks of brain injuries, mainly because it increases the odds of head collisions with other players. Referees are trained to treat any impact to the head as a serious injury.

Players who deliberately kick, or attempt to kick at, opponents' heads must also be severely punished retrospectively by competition organisers.

Two years ago Mario Balotelli, then of Manchester City, was retrospectively sanctioned for his intentional stamp that narrowly missed the head of Scott Parker, who was playing for Tottenham Hotspur.

At the time, Balotelli, still immature at 21, denied he did anything malicious and referee Howard Webb had missed the incident. The FA suspended Balotelli for four matches and Manchester City did not bother to appeal against the charge of violent conduct, which spoke volumes.

Although it is impossible to know the intent of players, referees use a clever test. They ask themselves would the offender have acted in the same uncontrolled manner towards his teammate or even a family member. Although by no means foolproof, this is how experienced officials try to make sense of seemingly "innocent" incidents.

But they also need support in terms of retrospective action since referees cannot always see everything that happens on the pitch.

A blow to the head should be treated seriously. It is no laughing matter.

  • A final note: Fifa once again showed its technophobic paranoia when it pulled the plug on Australia's experiment in miking up A-League referees for its current end-of-season finals, which would have been a world first. The idea was that at key moments, the audio from the referee and linesmen would have been aired by broadcaster Fox Sports. This would have brought soccer in line with other codes such as rugby league, union and Aussie Rules.

Agree or disagree? Contact Rational Ref at rationalref@gmail.com

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 April, 2014

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Rational Ref: Why football players need to leave their handbags at home

Rational Ref: Why football players need to leave their handbags at home

Mass confrontations and amateur dramatics tarnish the game - and even the colloquialism used to describe them could be seen as sexist
Soccer is far more successful in promoting the idea of handbags to the world than either Louis Vuitton or Prada. This fashionable colloquialism describes spiky confrontations where the rowdy participants are not really serious about inflicting actual bodily harm on each other.We see handbags all the time, where players scuffle with one another, call each other names, put their hands on necks and faces, and flick rude gestures.

Essentially, these asinine actions are non-threatening but each individual will have their own personal interpretation of what they deem to be aggressive, intimidating or provocative. When these personal interpretations differ wildly, things start to kick off and we have handbags or what referees officially call "mass confrontations".
Some players have thick skins and never rise to the bait, others will give as good as they get, a few will try to tell the referee what's going on, while others will overreact, which usually leads to a handbag melee.

Everyone wants to pressure referees to "lay down the rule of law" hard on their opponents, while simultaneously badgering the referee to be lenient with them.

Does this sound familiarly hypocritical in light of the Occupy Central movement where there have been plenty of handbags on the streets?

Nicolas Otamnedi reacts after an altercation with Barcelona's Brazilian forward Neymar at the weekend. Photo: AFPThere were also plenty of handbags during Valencia's 1-0 loss to Barcelona last weekend. When Neymar went down theatrically following a challenge from Nicolas Otamendi, the Valencia defender felt the Barcelona forward was trying to cheat and bent down to remonstrate with him.

As Otamendi put his hand on Neymar's neck and stuck his head in his face for good measure, Neymar pushed his forehead forward, which subsequently led to Otamendi outdoing Neymar's theatrics by grabbing his own face as if he had been heavily struck. Other players joined in the handbags dance, as everyone shoved and shouted to get opponents sent off.
In the aftermath, neither Neymar nor Otamendi's amateur dramatics were punished whereas yellow cards were shown to Gerard Pique and Antonio Barragan for escalating the chaos.

Such moments tarnish the game because at the end of the day it is still cheating, instead of focusing on playing ball.

This is why Sunderland's John O'Shea should be commended for his professionalism against Chelsea last week. When Chelsea forward Diego Costa over-reacted to a strong challenge, pushing his legs and boots out towards the Sunderland centre-half, O'Shea refused to make a meal of it and simply brushed off the potentially explosive incident. Other players would have used the opportunity to play handbags in the hope of influencing the referee to send off Costa.

Sunderland's John O'Shea tangles with Chelsea forward Diego Costa during their clash last weekend. Photo: Reuters 
There is also a serious side to these slang terms. Commentator and former player Stan Collymore is now in the dock for using the term "fairies" to describe Sergio Aguero's reaction of going to ground too easily. Traditionally, "fairies" is used to denote femininity in men, but it also has homophobic connotations.

Collymore's remark was immediately criticised by Football v Homophobia, the worldwide initiative opposing homophobia in the game. They said: "Whatever you think about diving, homophobic abuse is unacceptable."

While anti-homophobia groups have condemned Collymore, a spokesperson for the anti-discrimination group Kick It Out said: "Only Stan Collymore himself would be able to clarify what he meant when using the word. There does need to be greater education around the use of such terminology, as 'fairy' has historically been used as a slur towards members of the LGBT community. It is important these sensitivities are recognised."
Surely feminist groups could take offence to the apparently sexist use of the term "handbags". Therefore, should the soccer community stop using the term and find another more politically correct label for the unsavoury antics? If handbags become a fashion faux pas, how about the term "manbags" or "murses"?

These days, players have no sensitivity or hesitation in using the "F" and "C" words, but as soon as an apparently discriminatory slur is uttered then that's when the lobbyists complain and take it to be abusive and serious.

It is no longer handbags when some words hurt more than others.

Agree of disagree? Contact Rational Ref at rationalref@gmail.com

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 December, 2014 
P.S. All the very best to all referees for the New Year!!

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Rational Ref: Beyond perfection, referees are the real superheroes

Rational Ref: Beyond perfection, referees are the real superheroes

Referees who display mortal weaknesses are abused or even vilified

Forget Flash, Spider-Man and Wolverine. Referees are the real superheroes in the world of soccer. And like these superhumans who do good deeds and fight for justice, referees are treated as freaks and mutants because they are seen to be different from normal human beings.

Referees are superhuman because there are certain expectations and high standards that they are held to. By the same token, they are also considered to be subhuman. There is no middle ground.

First, referees must have amazing powers of vision plus an extra pair of eyes in the back of their heads just in case they miss anything. If they fail to spot a ball entering the goal, which video cameras can easily confirm, then referees are simply useless and biased.

Referees are expected to spot the slightest contact between players, see through crowds, and identify all kinds of cheating. Referees are expected to perform to the same level as the multiple-camera systems dotted around the stadiums.

Second, they must be indestructible. Referees are not allowed to pick up injuries, whereas players get injured all the time. Injured players are permitted to be assessed by medical personnel on the pitch, are treated with sympathy when they suffer run-of-the-mill injuries, and are given the best medical care for their rehabilitation. Injured referees are just expected to pick themselves up and carry on officiating. If they pull a muscle or accidentally trip over, players, coaches and supporters will instantly be on their backs.

Third, referees must exhibit model behaviour. Referees cannot swear or use abusive language even though they are regularly subjected to vile torrents from players, coaches and supporters. It is ironic that mouthy players who verbally abuse referees suddenly become sensitive and offended by the words "shut up".

Many referees, for instance EPL referee Mark Clattenburg, tell wayward players to "shut it" and players become outraged. They respond with: "You can't talk like that to me" and "you can't tell me to 'shut up'". The hypocrisy exhibited by players and coaches is unbelievable.

Fourth, referees must be infallible. They cannot make mistakes such as forgetting their cards, pens or whistles. Any errors on their part are unforgivable and a deluge of abuse will come their way should they tie their bootlaces or replace a piece of broken equipment during a match.

Chelsea midfielder John Mikel Obi talks with referee Mark Clattenburg as Spanish midfielder Juan Mata looks on. Referees are expected to be superhuman. Photo: AFP 
Fifth, referees must be super conditioned and not need to rehydrate on the pitch. During a match, a referee can easily run more than 10km, which is similar to the distance covered by many players. Players will take any opportunity they can to grab a drink, such as when another player is being treated for an injury. Or players will run to the touchlines to grab a water bottle.

It is astonishing to see goalkeepers drinking far more than outfield players, even though keepers do not run around as much as referees, linesmen and players. Yet, if a referee grabs a drink, he is looked down upon.

Rational Ref has had players remark at half-time: "You need to drink water?" In such moments, it is obvious how some players feel about referees. It is an "us against them" outlook and the psychology of such group divisions has been well researched. This division is the basis of why players, coaches and fans consider referees to be subhuman.

Essentially, whenever authority figures come into the spotlight while performing their duties, they will inevitably be criticised and vilified. In light of Occupy Central, the police have similarly taken a bad rap for simply performing their duties according to the law. A recent poll has shown public sentiment towards Hong Kong police is even below that of the People's Liberation Army.

That's how crazy popular opinion can be when people do not understand the meaning of "rule of law". Before condemning and abusing the police for simply doing their jobs, supporters of the Occupy movement first need to brush up on the law. The parallel here is that referees officiate according to the laws of the game and are vilified because their actions are unpopular and misunderstood.

Referees know players, coaches and supporters give them a hard time. Although this kind of abuse and antagonism comes with the territory, it nevertheless does not make it right. Good behaviour and respect are far more important than cheating, abusing and winning at all costs. This is why referees are the real superheroes in the villainous and immoral world of soccer.

Agree or disagree? Contact Rational Ref at rationalref@gmail.com

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 December, 2014

Newspaper Column

It has been a while since I last posted on this blog. One of the reasons is because I am now writing a weekly newspaper column, with the aim of raising awareness of the positive attributes of being a match official. Since there are still plenty of readers who still visit this blog, I will be uploading my articles here from time to time.

Please let me know if you find these articles about referees interesting. Further, if you would like to see certain topics raised and written about, you are welcome to make suggestions.

You can email me at rationalref@gmail.com

Thank you

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Barton's Comments About Tevez Justify HKRef's Open Suggestion to the FA

Finally after 18 months, Joey Barton has spoken about what happened between him and Carlos Tevez during that fateful match between Manchester City and Queens Park Rangers that resulted in Barton getting a 12-match ban from the FA.

Carlos Tevez provoked Joey Barton, and Barton fell for it hook, line and sinker. Pic Andy Hooper.

At the time, HKRef suggested that Tevez must have done something to provoke Barton to elbow him. The FA did not bother taking retrospective action on Carlos Tevez and therefore sent out the message that it is uninterested in seeking real justice in the game.

IMHO, Barton is a dedicated, talented and committed player. His weakness is his temperament, which many players recognize and therefore exploit. This is because Barton has gained a bad boy reputation due to the consequences stemming from his uncontrollable temperament.

Referees can learn a lot about officiating effectively from this kind of knowledge about players.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

RefCam: A Referee's Perpective

The following incidents occurred from the Referee's Perspective during the MLS All Stars match against Roma on Thursday 1 August 2013. The match finished 1—3, with 2 YCs.

Ref Cam: Sights and Sounds from the 2013 ATT MLS All-Star Game (YouTube)

Here's what Referee Hilario Grajeda looked like rigged up with the RefCam (which appears rather bulky).

From the start, Roma midfielder Miralem Pjanic (red 15) appears to be one of those players who persistently badger the referee to give things in their favour. Experienced Referees can spot these type of players a mile away.
C'mon Ref, what are you doing?

Later, Pjanic (red 15) fouls MLS All Stars captain Thierry Henry (blue 14). Pjanic looks at the Referee apologetically to make sure that he is not booked.
 Nice, clear and firm signal to indicate a direct free kick
 Don't book me Ref! I'm a good boy ... honest ...
Notice also the big screen from the Referee's view. A simultaneous double whammy!

Roma goalkeeper Morgan De Sanctis (grey) catches the ball and Referee Grajeda raises his ams with all fingers splayed out. He waits a second or two and then gives two thumbs up. What is this signal? What message is the Referee trying to communicate and are players paying attention to him?

 Wait ... wait ... goalkeeper has the ball ... wait ... thumbs up ...

In the 54', Pjanic (red 15) fouls Landon Donovan (blue 7) and Referee Grajeda, who appears (at least from the RefCam perspective) to be quite a distance away, cautions Pjanic.
 Is it clear to the players, match officials and spectators who the Referee has given a yellow card to?
Donovan takes exception to Pjanic's unfair challenge.

The RefCam is a great experience that the MLS (or PRO?) is offering to soccer fans. Letting people see what the referee sees … or doesn't see … can only be a good thing if we want to provide a better understanding of the important and fantastic work that Referees do. Let's see more RefCams!

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