Thursday 28 May 2015

Whose Blunder Is It Anyway?

Media reports have accused a Chinese goalkeeper of making a serious mistake. Sui Weijie's club Lifan has also fined him 50,000 yuan (about US$8,000) and faces a suspension. However, a bigger mistake was made by the match officials ... what was it?

Liaoning players (red) take a quick free kick against Lifan (white) in the Chinese Super League

You can see the video here (or watch below)

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 May, 2015

Quenching his thirst while on duty proved costly for Chongqing Lifan goalkeeper Sui Weijie, who has been fined for sipping water as their opponents equalised in a Chinese Super League match.
Relegation-threatened Lifan were leading 1-0 seven minutes from time in Sunday’s match when hosts Liaoning took a quick free-kick and midfielder Ding Haifeng darted past a group of static defenders before slotting the ball into an empty net, with Sui stood motionless drinking next to the goal post.

Lifan have since slapped Sui with a 50,000 yuan fine and he faces suspension.

Alternative angle

"I made a terrible mistake in Sunday’s game and let go a full three points," Sui, who was confronted by Lifan supporters at Liaoning’s Shenyang Airport on Monday, was quoted as saying.

"I won’t repeat the same mistake and will never lose concentration."

And Sui is unlikely to be a popular man in the dressing room - management had promised players a 1 million yuan bonus for a win, which was reduced to 400,000 since they only drew.

Sui was questioned by the ICAC in 2010 while playing in Hong Kong for Happy Valley in a match-fixing scandal, but never charged. 

Monday 18 May 2015

Rational Ref: Colourful shirts undermine a match official's authority, or do they?

Colourful shirts undermine a match official's authority, or do they?

Colourful shirts undermine a match official's authority, or do they?

 Australia's NRL referees will no longer wear pink jerseys. Photo: Getty Images

The term "Men in Black" is more likely to conjure up images of Will Smith blasting aliens into outer space rather than referees carding players off the soccer pitch. That's because the game's leading law enforcers are mostly kitted out in lemon yellow, lipstick red, sherbet blue and even fuchsia pink.

Over in the rugby world, Australia's NRL referees have ditched their colourful shirts claiming their "Pretty In Pink" tops undermine their authority. Even though rugby referees command far better respect from players, there could be some truth to their feelings of insecurity based on the colour of their shirts.

Rugby referees will now wear dark blue or black uniforms that, according to Tom Heenan from the National Centre for Australian Studies, are more likely to encourage discipline.

"One of the arguments is a stronger colour denotes a more disciplined culture, so therefore a navy blue would promote more discipline than a pink," Heenan said.

But psychologist Chris Pomfret of Condor Performance said there was no evidence the colour of a referee's uniform made any difference to how he was perceived. "I'm not aware of any evidence the colour pink would make any difference to how an official is perceived by the people they are officiating over, the crowd, coaches or any other observers," said Pomfret.

He said by agreeing to scrap the pink jersey this suggested the NRL was too concerned with what players, coaches and supporters thought of referees.

Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez (right) tries to place the ball past Crystal Palace goalkeeper Julian Speroni. Keepers who wear bright shirts increase their chances of putting off opponents. Photo: EPA  
"The colour of a uniform is irrelevant to the skill execution of referees, just the same as the colour of a jersey worn by players is irrelevant to their skill execution," he said. "In short, the colour of a uniform shouldn't matter as it doesn't directly impact on the performance of a referee, which ultimately has the most influence on their perceived credibility."

Scientific evidence suggests otherwise. Rugby referees are on to something and soccer referees can benefit from this kind of knowledge, too.

The science of colour psychology reveals that goalkeepers who wear bright flamboyant shirts may be better off than those wearing boring duller tops.

By heightening their opponents' perception levels, goalkeepers make themselves appear bigger than they really are. Goalkeepers wearing outlandish kits thus increase their chances of putting off their opponents who have only a split second to squeeze the ball past them and into the goal.

Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge (left) controls the ball as Blackburn's Adam Henley looks on. Photo: AP 
There is another a study that showed teams taking penalty kicks performed worst when the winning team's goalkeeper wore red, which appears to be a powerful colour for players.

In England, records since the second world war reveal teams wearing red have averaged higher league positions and have won more league championships than teams wearing other colours.
Also in cities with more than one team, the teams wearing red outperformed their rivals wearing other colours. Manchester United and Liverpool spring immediately to mind. In Hong Kong, South China are the most successful local club side ever.

New York Cosmos' forward Raul Gonzalez (centre) vies with South China Football Club's Chak Ting-fung and Bojan Malisic during the Lunar New Year Cup. Photo: EPA 
In 1996, Alex Ferguson famously changed his team's grey away kit at half-time following a humiliating 3-0 onslaught by Southampton. Wearing blue in the second half, they lost 3-1. Of five games ever played in their grey kit, United lost four and drew one.

Would the public (and criminals) take police and prison guards seriously if their uniforms were bright pink or fluorescent green? Of course not.

Referees should be known again as the Men in Black. Instead of referees having to change their shirt colours due to kit clashes with teams, organisers should insist all teams including their keepers do not wear black kits. Ultimately, whatever colour they wear, referees in the modern era still need all the help they can get to become more commanding and effective on the pitch.

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 March, 2015

UPDATE: Men dressed in red perceived as being more aggressive, study finds

Sunday 10 May 2015

Rational Ref: Chelsea's masters of the dark arts highlight a win-at-all-costs mentality

Chelsea's masters of the dark arts highlight a win-at-all-costs mentality

Chelsea's siege on Kuipers shows intimidation and bullying are acceptable in quest for glory
In sport what is more important: playing the game or playing games? Nowhere else but in soccer is this distinction more apparent, with plenty of cheating and gamesmanship instead of genuine sportsmanship and model behaviour.

Chelsea's siege on Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers during their Champions League exit to Paris Saint-Germain last week comes as no huge surprise. It is simply the logical consequence of the ugly, unethical and underhanded approach that has been allowed to fester and flourish to alarming levels.
The dark arts—comprising cheating, provocation, intimidation, faking injury and childish behaviour—is now so endemic it is considered the main source of entertainment, with media reports barely touching on the final score and team performances.

In one camp, John Terry, Jose Mourinho, Gary Neville and others believe the dark arts are entirely acceptable, whereas the likes of Graeme Souness, Jamie Carragher and most referees prefer a cleaner, honest and straightforward approach. Spectators will probably support whichever camp so long as it benefits their favourite team.

 Zlatan Ibrahimovic gestures to the referee after a tackle on Chelsea midfielder Oscar, who appeared badly hurt, but was on his feet moments after a red card was issued. Photo: AFP   

Chelsea captain Terry defended his hounding of referees, saying: "Every other side is as bad as each other."

"It's part of the game. Once they're charging the ref, the only thing we can do is respond. You can't as a group of players let them surround the ref, trying to get our players booked. Once I go [to influence the referee], four or five go with me. It doesn't look good, but that's part of the game."

Mourinho, obviously, backs his captain since he instils this kind of attitude in all the teams he has coached. As a manager, he upholds his reputation as the master of dark arts, with eye gouging a particular speciality.

In contrast, Souness labelled Chelsea players "pathetic" for their antics. Souness, who cemented his reputation at Liverpool as a tough but honest player, harks back to the old-fashioned era when sportsmanship and camaraderie took priority over rivalry and winning at all costs.

However, in the modern era of professional athletes and ludicrous salaries, the game's values have become ridiculously warped.

When Oscar was apparently seriously injured in his clash with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, notice how none of the Chelsea players showed any genuine concern to the well-being of their Brazilian teammate.

Not one of them went to see how Oscar was because they were all focused on pressuring the referee. Oscar was exaggerating the seriousness of his injury and as soon as Ibrahimovic was sent off, he was back on his feet as if nothing had happened.

Suppose you and a friend are involved in a car crash with another driver, what would be the natural reaction? Would you be jumping and screaming at the traffic policeman to reprimand the driver causing the accident or would you be more concerned about your friend?
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, a 'master of the dark arts'? Photo: AP

Chelsea's behaviour reveals the sad, twisted values that have taken over the game, where gaining a favourable decision is more important than the safety of teammates and fellow professionals.

In a match I refereed recently, two players jumped up for the ball and collided in a fair challenge, with one player apparently coming off worse for wear. Because he screamed loudly and made a big fuss about having an injury to his face, I whistled to stop play so he could be checked.

When I told him there was no foul, he became even more animated and miraculously forgot about his so-called "injury".

As a referee, I was more concerned about his safety. However, this player was all about getting a free kick for himself and a card for his opponent.
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard summed up the game's warped value systems by saying: "I think it's normal when you play games at that level. Players and managers want to win so much - players will try every trick in the book to try to get over the line and win matches.

"We've all been guilty of it throughout our careers by not always abiding by the rules."

The only way to appreciate this sentiment is that if we have all been taught to value only the destination and not to care about the journey in the "beautiful" game.

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 March, 2015