For a sport that likes to modestly refer to
itself as “The Beautiful Game”, administrators of the current World Cup must be
quietly embarrassed by the ongoing performance of the tournament’s referees.

Overnight, Portugal
beat Holland in a game dominated by the news that the referee managed to set a
new World Cup Finals record by sending four players off.

At least it wasn’t our usual anti-heroes,
notorious German dentist Markus Merk or Englishman Graham (“Handball? What
handball?”) Poll. This time it was a Russian referee, Valentin Ivanov, who
handed out more cards than a new divorcee at a singles convention, including
the FOUR reds.

It remains to be seen whether any players
will actually be eligible to play in the semi-finals or finals, if the Zero
Tolerence Refs continue to over-officiate at every turn.

As we reported on Friday, instead of
excitement about which teams had made it to the second round, international
chats between fans were bogged down in ref-bashing, and debate about how the
officiating at such a major tournament could be improved. Video-assists, extra
linesmen, two referees, sin-bins and all sorts of other measures were thrown up
by fans

But it would appear that there is a simpler
solution. Why doesn’t soccer follow the lead of so many other international
sports and install an international panel of professional referees to officiate
all major events?

Tennis and cricket are two sports that have
a panel of full-time, professional officials touring the world. It means the
athletes and officials know each other, enjoy mutual respect and (usually)
ensures an un-biased and high-standard level of decision-making.

It’s not as though international soccer
hasn’t got the money to pay some officials to dedicate themselves to the task.

We asked Football Federation Australia, who
sent us to websites explaining the way it works.
Individual leagues, such as the English Premier League, Italy’s
Series A, the South American leagues, and so on, are officiated by locals. FIFA
then chooses the best-performed refs from those leagues to undergo intensive pre-Cup training in time for the tournament.

That’s fine, on paper. Shame about the

The events of these Cup finals have shown
that such a system is flawed. At the very least, how can you guarantee
consistency in refereeing if one ref comes from South
America and another from Germany?
If the attraction of the World Cup is the coming together of the world’s soccer
nations, pitting the contrasting styles and on-field philosophies of African
teams, South Americans, European formations and so on, the same cannot be said
for refereeing.

Wouldn’t it also be a good thing for the FA
Cup final, Champions League and other such competitions to be ruled by such a
Super Panel of impartial, full-time FIFA referees?

Teams need to know that the men
with the whistle have a mutual understanding of what is and isn’t legal. At the
moment, that simply doesn’t exist, and unprofessional officials are dragging
games down to their level. We remain fearful that it is going to end in tears
over the next fortnight.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey