How Many Referees Does it Take to Change a Game? Time for an Official Review

jack waltonContributor IFebruary 4, 2009

Fads in Football are an unavoidable phenomenon.


Whether its the size of a player's shorts or diamond formations with holding midfielders, there will always be a new idea in football that bounds into the sport, only to fizzle out with a whimper. Its normally discarded as harmless restyling of an already "beautiful game."

But this all changes when officiating comes under the spotlight; punters up and down the country are famous for reacting strongly to notions of rule changes (and rightly so). So what exactly is on the cards for refereeing?


With the successful introduction of technology into sports such as Rugby, Cricket and Tennis, why are football fans so sure that their national past time is doomed whenever progress is mentioned?


Cricket is the prime example of a traditional English sport willing to strive for consistency. First there were video replays, then came Hawkeye, Snikometer and Hot-spot technology. Now, on the eve of England's Tour of the West Indies we can celebrate the beginning of "Challenges" in Test Cricket. A welcome change in this reporter's eyes.


The concept of contesting the powers that be has already been tried and tested in Tennis (despite Roger Federer's disapproval) and more famously in American Football. The system involves each team being endowed a handful of "challenges" whereby they are entitled to have a third party re-review an incident.

This year's Super Bowl featured a touchdown being rescinded as a result of such a challenge, meaning that vindication was swift, the decision was clear and no team could argue being robbed. More importantly, no-one mentioned the word "bias" when 50-50 incidents occurred. In fact the game's officiating was only criticised because there were not enough challenges available to remove human error entirely.


Which brings up the term "indisputable evidence." This has long been available to officials across sport thanks mostly to multi-angled television replays. Only Football referees choose not to acknowledge it during the game, preferring instead to absorb huge amounts of criticism from the viewing public.


Take Frank Lampard's red card on Sunday. This, in hindsight, was not a red card. Had the Chelsea Managing staff had a challenge in their arsenal, the game would not have been decided thirty or so minutes before full time.


It is important to limit these challenges to a minimum, though, to avoid spoiling the sacred flow of the game (which appears to be a stumbling block for most innovation in football refereeing). One incorrect challenge could be given to managers in each game (thus limiting the possibility of tactical usage).

A quick nod to a video replay would take about two minutes, which would normally be wasted diffusing crowds of squabbling players. It would also put some weight back behind the phrase "may the best team win."


But are the supporters ready to change? Is that the real sticking point where progress is concerned? No doubt the importance placed on games has now reached a tipping point, or else change would not be at the forefront of footballing conversation. Surely challenges wouldn't affect the game as much as the offside rule did.

In the meantime let the cricket, the tennis, the rugby, athletics, and American football do the talking.