FIFA World Cup 2010: Why Was Koman Coulibaly Refereeing at the World Cup?

Bill HareCorrespondent IJune 19, 2010

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 18:  Referee Koman Coulibaly look on during the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Group C match between Slovenia and USA at Ellis Park Stadium on June 18, 2010 in Johannesburg, South Africa.  (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)
David Cannon/Getty Images

By now the portion of the world interested in soccer, along with many without interest, know about Koman Coulibaly and his controversial call.

What needs to be investigated is how thoroughly he was vetted before being selected to referee.  This is a competition in which the premier referees from around the world are to be selected for such a privilege.

Koman Coulibaly received his education in economics and is a financial inspector for the government of Mali, his home nation.  Coulibaly received his FIFA referee’s credential at the age of 28.

During those 12 subsequent years, he has worked in five African Nations Cups and is one of Africa’s most experienced officials.

It was this aforementioned experience that assuredly resulted in Coulibaly to be selected to officiate at the highest pinnacle of the sport.

Before one surmises, however, that there were no forewarnings concerning the kind of behavior that occurred on Coulibaly’s part in the U.S.-Slovenia match, it is essential to look at the full record.

A January 30, 2010 article in Goal.Com generates reason for caution in selecting the Mali referee to officiate in the World Cup.  At the time the Goal.Com article appeared, Coulibaly was on the World Cup shortlist.

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The article relates to Coulibaly having been selected to referee the then-upcoming 2010 African Nations Cup final between Egypt and Ghana.

The Goal.Com piece refers to Coulibaly as “a divisive figure in some major African matches in the past.”

A case in point was awarding Cameroon a controversial stoppage time penalty in its final 2006 World Cup qualifier against Egypt in Yaounde.  Had Cameroon converted, it would have qualified for the finals.  The kick was missed.

Also mentioned in the article was the establishing of a Facebook page by angry Tunisian fans.  On the page the fans called for Coulibaly’s removal from the FIFA panel after controversial performances against their team.

Granted, the aforementioned instances do not establish a case, in and of themselves, for removing Coulibaly from consideration for the prestigious World Cup assignment.

They do beg the important question of whether these and other pertinent issues concerning the Mali soccer official’s qualifications for working the most prestigious event in the sport were thoroughly explored, or investigated at all.

Even before the goal disallowance, a call that was every bit as illogical and unfounded occurred in the first half against America’s Robbie Findley.  The yellow card handed out by Coulibaly prohibits Findley from playing against Algeria in the next crucial clash of the U.S.

Findley was carded for a ball-handling violation.  As Jamie Trecker, senior soccer writer for Fox Sports, wrote, “Replays showed that the ball went to hand, not the reverse, and should not have been penalized as it was not intentional.”

Trecker cites the rule correctly.  The ball hit Findley and ultimately hit his hands.  To be applicable, it is necessary for a volitional act to occur in which the player makes a reach with his hands toward the ball, which was definitely not the case with Findley.  This fact was corroborated by video replays, as Trecker noted.

Following such a blatantly incorrect call it was no surprise that Coulibaly made another egregious error.  As bad as was the previous yellow card, the next call would be far more harsh where U.S. interests were concerned.

On a free kick in the 86th minute of a 2-2 match in which the U.S. had come valiantly from behind after incurring a 2-0 first half deficit, Maurice Edu secured the ball and booted it into the net.

Not only was the score disallowed, Coulibaly refused to respond to requests by U.S. players to reveal who had committed the foul that caused a crucial goal to be waved off.

Video replays showed that scorer Edu was not offside.  There was one clear cut violation revealed in close-ups of the critical play, but it demonstrated an act against Michael Bradley, son of U.S. coach Bob Bradley, who had scored the tying goal for the American team.

To call it a foul would not be enough.  The Slovenians, in effect, mugged the player who had earlier scored the tying goal.  This surely should not be the basis of a goal-preventing infraction since Bradley was on the same team as scorer Edu.

Ironically, the official responsible for a call so detrimental to the United States was born on July 4, 1970.

In addition to the U.S.-Slovenia match there have been others involving disputed calls.  A Catch-22 would result in certain instances where, by questioning a suspicious call, a yellow card would be given.  Thus far the World Cup competition has been marked by numerous yellow cards.

Officials selected for the World Cup competition are supposed to be the world’s best.  If the officiating displayed thus far represents the very best  then fresh blood appears to be needed.