Saturday 25 February 2012

Serious Foul Play: Robert Huth

The following incident occurred during the EPL match between Stoke City and Sunderland on Saturday 4 February 2012. The match finished 0—1.

Stoke's Robert Huth (red 4) makes a challenge directly at his opponent, Sunderland's David Meyler (blue 18). Here are the freeze frames:

Referee Martin Atkinson sent off Robert Huth for serious foul play. Stoke City coach Tony Pulis claimed there was "no intent" and would appeal the decision.

Follow Up
The FA rejected Stoke City's appeal and upheld Referee Martin Atkinson's decision (see BBC Sport).

Note: This post will be linked with another send off for a Stoke City player, Rory Delap, during a match held 15 days later on 19 February 2012.

Tuesday 21 February 2012

Studs Alert: Benoit Assou-Ekotto

The following incident occurred during the EPL match between Tottenham Hotspur and Wigan Athletic on Tuesday 31 January 2012. The match finished 3—1.

In the 73' minute Spurs defender Benoit Assou-Ekotto (white 32) goes over the top of the ball when challenging against Wigan's Franco Di Santo (blue 9). Here are the freeze frames:

Referee Lee Probert and his AR did not see any serious foul play when Spurs defender Benoit Assou-Ekotto challenged Wigan's Di Santo.

'Allo 'allo, what have we here then?
Let me have a closer look ... (because it makes me appear like I am paying close attention)

Can and should retrospective action be taken out by the FA Disciplinary Committee on Tottenham Hotspur's Benoit Assou-Ekotto? We have already seen the FA taking retrospective action against Newcastle's Yohan Cabaye.

Related Posts

Probing Lee Probert Part 4

Cynical Challenges (search results)

Friday 17 February 2012

China's Golden Whistle Gets Jail Sentence

Lu Jun, the first Chinese Referee to take charge of a World Cup match, has been sentenced for five and a half years on match-fixing charges.

Then in 2002 ...

... and Now in 2012

This news comes during the preseason of the 2012 Chinese Super League which is scheduled to begin on Saturday 10 March.

Related Posts

China's Golden Whistle Admits Accepting US$44,000 Bribe

CFA Chief says China Referees to Blame for Bad Reputation


Top China football referee Lu Jun jailed over bribes (BBC News)
By Michael Bristow BBC News, Beijing

The man who was once China's top football referee has been sentenced to five-and-a-half years in jail for taking bribes to fix matches.

Lu Jun - who officiated at the World Cup - was one of nine people convicted of charges related to corruption inside Chinese football.

The defendants were arrested following an investigation launched to try to clean up the game in China.

A number of other cases are still pending.

Lu Jun, once dubbed the "golden whistle", was the first Chinese referee to take charge of a World Cup match, at the 2002 event hosted by Japan and South Korea.

He was also twice named referee of the year by the Asian Football Confederation.

But now he has been sent to prison after admitting taking bribes worth more than $128,000 (£82,000) to fix the results of seven league football games, some in 2003.

These bribes involved four clubs, including Shanghai Shenhua, which has just signed French soccer star Nicolas Anelka.
'Black whistles'

The court, in the north-eastern city of Dandong, heard how the Shanghai club had spent nearly $1m bribing officials and referees, including Lu Jun.

The referee was one of a group of nine people - including other referees and officials - convicted following a trial. They were given sentences ranging from no time in jail to seven years behind bars.

There were tales of a wrongly-awarded penalty, the fixing of international friendly matches and gambling.

In China, corrupt referees have become known as "black whistles".

Monday 13 February 2012

It's All EARs In Brazil

Looking at the highlights of the Brazilian Football State Championships (Carioca) match between Flamengo and Madureira played on 8 February 2012, it can be seen that the organisers in this competition are using additional or extra ARs (EARs) as introduced by UEFA in 2009. The match finished 1—0, with Ronaldinho missing a penalty.

Highlights: Flamengo and Madureira, 8 February 2012 (YouTube)

However instead of following or copying UEFA's modification this season in switching the placement of EARs to the side of the goal line nearest the AR, the Brazil EARs remain positioned on the far side of the goal line.

The Brazil EARs also appear to be taking an active role in communicating and signalling with the players and the match Referee. It should be noted that the Brazilian Football State Championships, which runs from January/February to April/May, has a history of including "obscure formats" and experimenting with "proposed innovations in rules".

The match officials do not use CommLink systems, and have to rely on plenty of eye contact and team awareness.

Goal Kick but also Offside
The EAR signals a goal kick but the AR has signalled for Offside

In this incident, the EAR receives an earful from the goalkeeper because of the lack of communication between the match officials.

Corner Kick

Goal Kick


Penalty Kick
Ronaldinho misses his penalty kick and the EAR signals a goal kick

For Related Posts on the Ineffectiveness of EARs (please click here)

Also, check out Insightful Camera View Showing The Ineffectiveness of EARs.

Wednesday 8 February 2012

To Bias Is Human ...

… to respect Referees' decisions divine ?

[Original quote: To err is human, to forgive divine.]

Why are people usually biased? For instance, the 'tribalism' that football supporters adhere to and exhibit can be extremely subjective, distorted and one-sided. Psychologists usually explain this by the way the human mind has evolved to make distinctions between "in-groups" and "out-groups" (i.e. possessing an "us" vs "them" mentality). This had a lot of survival value when humans roamed around in groups thousands of years ago.

I believe Referees already grasp this concept of "in-groups" from their experience in officiating matches and in talking with players, coaches and anyone expressing a preference to a particular team. There is obvious bias involved, but it is another matter altogether whether supporters of teams actually acknowledge this bias or not.

And recent research suggests that people do not tend to acknowledge their bias because they are probably unaware of it. University researchers have confirmed this "subconscious" bias with a study analyzing brain scans of volunteers who professed to support particular sports teams (see link here and text below). The researchers found that individuals perceive the actions of players in their own team differently to those of players from a rival team. Apparently, the bias manifested itself in people "judging their players as faster, even when the two actions [of opposing players] were performed at identical speeds."

As I said, this much is really already known. Supporters perceive players in their team to be "faster", even when the facts clearly show that they are not faster or better.

This means one has to actually make an effort to think critically and to self-reflect rationally in order to obtain a reasonably good understanding of one's own views, opinions and value judgements in life. Unfortunately, very few people appear to be willing or able to do this.

So, Here's A Thought For Referees

We, as Referees, also consider ourselves as an "in-group"; sometimes even labeling ourselves as the "third team". Therefore, has it ever occurred to any of us that when we view match incidents and Referees' decisions, and when we favour the Referees' decisions, are we in some "human" way falling into the 'bias' trap too? How do we, as Referees, minimize or eliminate (if possible?) any bias towards favouring fellow Referees all the time? And should we?

For instance, let's just say when we are ARs to a match Referee and the Referee is having a particularly bad performance, what should be the correct response? There are pros and cons to all the different types of possible responses that we can give to the Referee. But more often than not, most ARs will simply support the match Referee no matter what (i.e. be biased in favour of him); and this is because of our "in-group" tendencies and the way we have been instructed to support the team. Whether or not we also perceive the actions of the Referee differently from non-match officials is unknown … and could be an inspiration for a future research project!


Why you think your team is the best (New Scientist)
31 January 2012 by Wendy Zukerman

Ah ref! Now you have an excuse for thinking your team always performs best. Your brain perceives the actions of people in your own team differently to those of a rival team.

Pascal Molenberghs at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, divided 24 volunteers into two teams and had them judge the speed of hand actions performed by two people, one from each team.

As expected, most of the volunteers were biased towards their own team, judging their players as faster, even when the two actions were performed at identical speeds.

Surprisingly, brain scans taken during the task showed that this bias arises from differences in brain activity during perception of the hand action and not during the decision-making process. The work will appear in Human Brain Mapping.

Louise Newman, a psychologist at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, says the research is an important step to unravelling the mechanisms of how people develop perceptions of "in-groups" and "out-groups". This can inform our understanding of racism and discrimination, she adds.

Friday 3 February 2012

Lee Probert and Yohan Cabaye Again Part 1

The FA has taken retrospective action and charged Newcastle's Yohan Cabaye with violent conduct on Brighton's Adam El-Abd.

The following incidents occurred during the FA Cup fourth round match between Brighton and Newcastle United on Saturday 28 January 2012. The match finished 1—0.

It is also interesting to observe that coaches and players like to use players' evidence when it suits them, and to ignore players' testimonies when it doesn't suit them. In this instance, in an effort to defend their stance about Cabaye's 'unintentional stamp' at an opponent Newcastle are claiming that the victim, Brighton's El-Abd, will support Cabaye in his appeal with the FA charge. There is no proof of this; there is only what the media reported what Newcastle coach Alan Pardew had said.

We already know Pardew will not publicly say anything negative about Cabaye (i.e. for Cabaye's excessive challenges) but will openly defend him or help get sympathy for him (see here).

Presented here (and in Part 2) are three incidents in the match that give a flavour of what occurred. Given the unsavoury performances this season of Referee Lee Probert and Newcastle United player Yohan Cabaye (e.g. see Probing Lee Probert), what occurred during this match is evidence that not much has changed in terms of their own individual introspection, self-improvement and performance.

1) Cabaye's Stamping Incident

As the ball is played to Newcastle's Yohan Cabaye (black 4), Brighton's El-Abd (blue/white) fouls Cabaye from behind.

First, it must be said that Brighton's El-Abd fouled Cabaye by pushing and tripping him. Referee Lee Probert did not call it and simply let play continue.

Even had Probert quickly whistled for a foul, Cabaye's unsavoury reaction toward his opponent appears to be typical of his attitude toward fellow professionals in general (see examples here and here).

Cabaye (black 4) is fouled from behind and Referee Lee Probert does not call it

Notice how Cabaye's left leg is straightened, which is a sure sign that he intended to stamp against his opponent and cause harm.
Referee Lee Probert (orange) appears to perhaps have an angle of the players' tangle but he did not stop play.

Cabaye gets up and exhibits no concern whatsoever for his opponent who he has just stamped on

And did Cabaye show any empathy or concern for his fellow professional after this clash? Remember, Cabaye was "really upset" about being on the receiving end of a challenge by QPR's Shaun Derry. At least Derry had the courtesy and decency to check on Cabaye immediately following his reckless challenge.

Now obviously, everyone wants justice. If a player is carelessly tripped by an opponent to make him lose possession, a Referee can manage this by simply giving back what is owed. Tit for Tat, as some people may say.

Food For Thought
This ordinary everyday 'justice' system is analogous to giving a child some money to buy some candy from a candy store. Equal value constitutes fair exchange. When there is a shopkeeper, everything is fine because there is a recognised authority figure to help out with the fair exchange of goods. However, if the shopkeeper is dealing with another customer or is taking a nap, the child is told by someone (perhaps an impatient mother waiting outside or another person inside the store) he can simply take his share of sweets and then leave the money as payment. In such circumstances, most people will behave fairly and pay for what they take. Some people, if they know they can get away with it, will sneakily take a little more candy in return for their cash. And there are others, like Cabaye for example, who will simply take ... they will take as much candy as possible and will also take their cash with them too. This represents their own moral and ethical codes. As Referees, we should intimately know and understand our own moral and ethical codes ... which ideally should be decent and of a high standard. With this understanding, Referees can hopefully understand and evaluate other people's reactions and behaviour too.

With Cabaye, whenever a decision goes against him and whenever he perceives an 'injustice' is inflicted on him, he will take as much 'justice' for himself. Cabaye's sense of Tit for Tat is seriously skewed and it will probably not do him any good in the long run. Furthermore, even before Cabaye perceives any injustice being inflicted on him, he will himself inflict injustice on his opponents and expect to get away with it ... just like a kid who should know better running around unsupervised in a candy store. If Cabaye does not change his ways, there is a good chance he may experience some serious incidents in future. He may even come across an opponent who has similar moral and ethical codes to his own, and should he fall victim he will undoubtedly protest most vehemently and the response from those familiar with the situation will be something similar to that described in What Goes Around Cabaye Around.

Looking at what Cabaye tweeted in response to the FA charge, we have a clue as to his take on Tit for Tat and his perception of "injustice". Cabaye tweeted:
"3 matchs ban it's a real injustice but life goes on !!! In my teammates i trust ..."
Cabaye correctly perceived he was fouled, but he also reacted violently and knowingly injured his opponent. And yet Cabaye believes his subsequent three-match ban for violent conduct is an "injustice". With that kind of view, who really knows what Cabaye's sense of justice and fairness is?

The FA is to be applauded for charging Newcastle's Cabaye for stamping on Brighton's El-Abd. In recent times the FA has been seen to support EPL match officials by taking retrospective action on incidents that were missed by match officials (e.g. Balotelli's Boot) and by upholding correct decisions made by match officials (e.g. Chris Foy the Courageous).

Now if only some EPL referees, who are full-time professionals, can raise their awareness and treatment of problem players, as well as improving their own problem areas, then hopefully justice can be consistently and correctly applied on the field of play before it even has the chance for competition authorities to take retrospective review.

More in Part 2 of Lee Probert and Yohan Cabaye Again.

Wednesday 1 February 2012

Stamp Out Stamping: Balotelli's Boot

The following incident occurred during the EPL match between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday 22 January 2012. The match finished 3—2, with Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli being instrumental in winning a penalty in stoppage time and converting the spot-kick to win the match for this team.

In the 83' Spurs midfielder Scott Parker (white) blocks a shot from Balotelli (blue). Here are the freeze frames:
Referee Howard Webb appears to be more concerned with looking at the ball

This is a clear stamp by Balotelli on Parker, and could have resulted in a serious head injury had Balotelli's boot landed flush on Parker's head. Referees should also be aware of the potential likelihood of head injuries that may result from collisions between players.

Referee Howard Webb appears to be looking at the incident but Webb's line of sight is probably not focused downward toward Parker's head

Referees should not listen too closely to what players say. Good Referees put more emphasis on evaluating players' actions as opposed to their words.

Balotelli looking all 'sweet and innocent'

Graham Poll's comments:
"I struggle with the fact that Howard Webb didn't see it but then he didn't see six studs land on someone's chest in the World Cup [reference to Nigel de Jong of the Netherlands for kicking out at Xavi Alonso of Spain]. I like Howard, I think he's a great referee but basic instructions to referees are that if two players clash and you cannot trust them then you shouldn't leave them on their own. You stop play - it's as simple as that."

"If Howard Webb did look away, why? As a referee, you are taught to hold your gaze. Be sure. Look for 'afters'. It is basic refereeing."

Harry Redknapp, Spurs coach, comments:
"The first one could have been an accident, but on the second one he's backheeled him straight in the head. It is not the first time he has done that and I am sure it won't be the last. I am the last person to talk about getting people sent off and what they should and shouldn't do. But it is blatant."

Alan Hansen, BBC Sport football pundit:
"I think he stamps on him. When you hit the ground you don't stamp and there's a definite stamp there. The referee is five yards away. I think he should have given him a red card."

Lee Dixon, BBC Sport football pundit:
"I think you've got to give him the benefit of the doubt. He's not looking at Parker. Looking at his left leg, it's actually off the ground. I know it looks bad but no-one can possibly tell."

Referee Tip
Always consider whether the player in question would act in exactly the same way had the person on the receiving end been a team-mate or a close friend. Players have a certain duty of care toward other players, and this is usually clearly seen (and appreciated) amongst sporting players who do not wish any misfortune on their fellow professionals or to their own team-mates.

This was perhaps the best comment from ex-Referee Dermot Gallagher, who "believes Balotelli should have been sent off but does not think referee Howard Webb should be blamed for missing the incident."
"After countless replays I think it's a red card but I think it's still a very subjective thing to look at. Only Mario really knows what he was thinking and what he was doing and that's the problem the FA may have. When [Webb] looks back, the incident has already taken place and in many ways he's done the FA a service if they need to take action because, by not gambling and suddenly hooking out a yellow card and making a mistake, he's left it alone and the process can take place."

Follow Up
The FA have taken retrospective action against Mario Balotelli's stamp on Scott Parker (see Balotelli charged over 'stamp' on Parker).

It is interesting how most of the media reports only suggest that it appeared to be a stamp (or 'stamp').
*I'll have something to say about this "lack of precision" in a future post.

Follow Up Note: The Spanish FA (RFEF) did not take retrospective action against Pepe for his stamp on Lionel Messi in the Copa del Rey quarter-final first leg match between Real Madrid and Barcelona (see Pepe Le Pew Part 1What a Stinker Part 2).

These mixed signals ultimately send out the wrong message. Competition organisers, especially those like the FA and RFEF who have a high-profile standing and therefore undertake a huge responsibility in protecting the image of the game, should take action and should be seen to take action on offenders.

The FA is to be condoned for taking retrospective action against Balotelli's behaviour in the EPL, whereas the RFEF is to be condemned for not taking similar measures against Pepe's behaviour in La Liga.