World Cup Officiating: Too Soft or Are the Players To Blame?

Nick DaviesCorrespondent IJune 23, 2010

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 20:  Abdul Kader Keita of Ivory Coast lies on the ground injured during the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Group G match between Brazil and Ivory Coast at Soccer City Stadium on June 20, 2010 in Johannesburg, South Africa.  (Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images)
Martin Rose/Getty Images

The standard of refereeing at this World Cup has, for the large part, been rather good, but the sheer ease with which players have been booked has become a serious cause for concern.

My first point is that this is not a mere rant or rave at the referees themselves. They have an incredibly difficult job, and in this World Cup, the cynicism from certain players has made the referee's lives infinitely more difficult.  

I am referring largely to the mass increase of "the face clutch". By this, I mean the infuriating trait of a player getting stroked on the ear by a flailing hand and then going down screaming and holding their eyes as if they had been pepper sprayed. 

The referees have clearly been told not to let anything go in this World Cup, as evidenced by their now customary stopping the first corner/free kick to tell the first warring pair to stop holding each other, and their overt keenness with bookings adds weight to this theory. Players have obviously quickly picked up on this and are now doing all they can to see their opposite numbers punished.

There is possibly nothing so unsavoury in football as seeing a player take a tumble and then seeing his teammates and manager all motioning for the offending player to be booked. 

My mind is drawn to several incidents which have happened, including Kaka's red card due to a shameful piece of thespianism by Keita of Ivory Coast.

For those who did not see it, Keita jogged into the back of the unaware Brazilian and then fell down, holding his face and drumming the turf in apparent agony. A confused Kaka received his marching orders speedily, no doubt aided by the ref being surrounded by almost the entire Ivory Coast team all gesturing for Kaka's dismissal.

The shameless Sergio Busquets of Spain, who notoriously got Thiago Motta sent of in the Champions League semifinals this year, gave a repeat performance of his miraculous healing abilities against Honduras where he was sent crashing to earth holding his face, only to jump back up as soon as the free kick went his way.

The referees must take some portion of the blame, because it is for them to allow common sense to prevail. German forward Miroslav Klose's sending off against Serbia was an absolute farce, while French midfielder Yoann Gourcuff's sending off against South Africa was quite possibly an over reaction.

U.S. fans will still be seething at their disallowed goal against Slovenia, replays of which showed three fouls being committed in the box, all against American players.

Some action must be taken to stop this becoming such an issue. Perhaps if a player goes down holding his face, he must leave the field of play immediately and be tended to, only to return at the referees discretion. Players might think twice about diving in such a manner if it meant leaving their team a man short. Referees must also have the guts to book players for diving.

In Germany's game against Australia, two players were booked for diving, but the consistency waned considerably. Uruguay's forward Luis Suarez might have been sent off for diving against South Africa, and so he frequently fell in agony due to his personal space being invaded, only to jump up moments later.

Steps were taken in the correct direction at an earlier point this season, when an Arsenal striker dove against keeper Artur Boruc of Celtic in a Champions League game. The Scottish League was rightly disgusted and demanded action be taken. If you have not seen it, look it up. When that is sufficient contact to go to ground, I'll become a rugby fan.

I would love to conclude that it must be for the players themselves to look in the mirror and decide that they want to win fairly. But alas, while the players know that they can gain substantial reward for going to ground easily, they will not stop because a few people are not impressed.

Am I merely being pedantic, even cynical?

Let me know. Your thoughts would be much appreciated.