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Friday, March 14, 2003

PREMIER REPORT

F.A. must stop overruling officials on discipline


LONDON -- As the governing body of the sport in England, the Football Association is supposed to protect the game, promote fair play and, to quote from its web site "ensure that football gets the match officials it deserves."

Christopher Davies

What is becoming increasingly obvious is that match officials, notably the select group of referees which controls Premiership matches, does not have the F.A. it deserves.

The F.A. has constantly humiliated and embarrassed referees by effectively overruling their decisions even though law No. 5 states "the decisions of the referee regarding facts connected with play are final."

Oh no they are not. And when the International Board, FIFA's lawmaking body, has its annual meeting on Saturday to discuss possible changes, the F.A. can expect to be told to toe the line along with the other 203 member countries.

Earlier this year Mark Halsey sent off Chelsea goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini for violent conduct against Middlesbrough's Dean Windass. Halsey was in the back of the goal net where the incident took place and television evidence was inconclusive because of the number of players involved.

Instead of backing the referee, who insisted his actions were correct, an F.A. disciplinary commission ruled that the sending off was sufficient punishment.

Without doubting the three-man commission's honesty and impartiality, not one of the members had ever refereed a game of any consequence in his life or was an expert on the laws, as referees are.

Yet they sat in judgment on Halsey and decided he was wrong.

Most decisions in football are subjective unlike, say, in American football where instant replays can tell whether a player's foot went out of bounds or whether a knee was on the ground before the player lost possession of the ball.

Halsey's view was that Cudicini was guilty of violent conduct which should have been the end of the story, with the Italian serving a minimum one-game ban with immediate effect.

The F.A. tries to insist it has not overturned the red card, only changed the suspension. What a joke. How can any red card offense be deemed worthy only of a 26-minute suspension which is all Cudicini, sent off in the 64th minute, served?

An F.A. spokesman said: "People have been crying out for years that when a decision is made and it is blatantly wrong it ought to be addressed in the interests of fair play."

The "people" concerned are invariably the player sent off, plus managers and supporters of the beaten side, who prefer to blame the referee rather than the team's inadequacies.

If a referee stands by his decision to send off a player that surely has to be the end of it. The referee is right even if others think he is wrong -- how can three non-referees sit in judgment on a match official and say he is wrong?

FIFA regulations state that any player sent off MUST serve a minimum one-match ban in the following game. While England is a member of FIFA it chooses to ignore this particular directive -- not for the first time the English are out of step with the rest of the world and one hopes FIFA will bring them in line for next season.

It is also in FIFA's statutes that "in no case can the decision of the referee be modified after the game."

Yet the F.A. prefers what amounts to anarchy -- ironic that the national association responsible for discipline fails to follow world football's ruling body's disciplinary code.

It costs a club £1,200 to lodge a claim for wrongful dismissal. Even if the referee stands by his opinion that his decision was correct that is far from the end of the matter. The three-man video advisory panel, comprising an ex-player, ex-manager and ex-referee, then decides whether the claim should go to a three-man disciplinary commission -- a 2-1 verdict is all that is needed.

The disciplinary commission has the final word and when that word is that "the sending off was sufficient punishment" -- i.e. we think the ref got it wrong -- the official concerned gets humiliated in public. It is difficult enough for referees to have respect without their bosses belittling them like this.

A related effect of the F.A.'s stance is that if a player who has already been cautioned commits a red card offense, referees are tending to show a second yellow card and then the red, rather than a straight red. There is no right of appeal against being dismissed for a second bookable offense and referees are preferring this option to prevent the F.A. from overturning their decision.

It does not matter to a referee whether a player receives a one or three-match suspension. As long as the player is sent off the referee has done his job -- and there can be no comebacks later on.

Why does the F.A. have this policy? Far from "correcting injustices" it is difficult not to believe that it is a result of the growing power of Premiership clubs. In other words, the F.A. wants to keep in with the people it needs to keep in with.

On Saturday's International Board agenda is the possibility of using sin-bins which are used in ice hockey.

The idea appears to be an effort to eliminate the second yellow card offense. If a player, cautioned for an earlier foul, commits another bookable foul, he is sent to the sin-bin for a length of time -- instant justice rather than a later suspension.

The idea seems all but unworkable, though. Where would the sinners go? Football grounds do not have a designated area for such use. The "sent off" player could not sit on the substitutes' bench, while if he was ordered to the dressing room, how would he be told when his time is up? In fact, who would regulate the time? The referee could not do this -- perhaps the fourth official?

The sin-bin scheme may have its merits but is unlikely to be introduced because of the problems it presents.



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