Thursday, November 19, 2009

Handling things

The events in Paris last night (for those who've not seen the news this refers to the World Cup qualifying play-off game, involving France and Ireland, in which Thierry Henry performed one of the most blatant handballs ever seen, leading directly to a goal that in the end knocked Ireland out) have lead to the inevitable calls for a rethink over whether we have video referees in football, especially for decisions such as this. I have mixed views on video referees in football. On the one hand I like the fact that in real time during a game controversial refereeing decisions will get made and are allowed to stand, because I think it adds something to the game as a form of entertainment - basically it gives people something to discuss/rant/argue/complain about during and after the game, which a lot of people get enjoyment out of, even if it's a strange perverse masochistic enjoyment when bad decisions go against your team. It would be nice to just discuss a game with regards to the actual football that was played, but to be honest a lot of the time refereeing decisions have far more mileage, especially in often otherwise dull games.

But that said, when refereeing decisions do go against your team it can be really infuriating when you know that a quick replay of the event by the fourth official, and a word in the refs ear, would have easily set things right. You generally have to hope that such decisions even themselves out over the course of a game/season/tournament. Last night's event was slightly different in that it was a one off (over two legs of course) knockout play-off game, so one bad decision against you could be, and was, disastrous. When huge amounts of money are involved in the outcome of a game, or it involves missing out, or not progressing in, a major tournament, I can see that video refereeing may be very welcome.

But, I'm still not entirely swayed back to the arguments for video refereeing. I'd like to see something else first, although it may be far harder to implement than video reffing, and that's trying to make the players more honest! This again is something that's been bandied about in football discussions for quite a while, whether it's been trying to stop player diving, or trying to stop them abusing referees. Often the argument goes "Rugby [or insert your idea of the most honest and respectable sport here] players don't fake injuries (hehe), or abuse the ref, so why can't footballers be more honourable in their conduct?", and I still don't see why this idea of trying to make footballer's less inclined to cheat can't be encouraged more. This has started to some extent, via some disincentivisation, in that footballers who are caught diving after the event can face game bans and fines. But for things like blatant handballs that the referees/linesmen don't spot, how about having the players own up to these infringements straight away, and if they don't, and this is spotted afterwards, then they suffer similar consequence. To get more honesty it might just be a case that refs should start questioning players more when something untoward is noticed by opposition players. For example last night Shay Given was telling the ref that he'd seen a handball, so had the ref asked Henry what happened maybe be would have admitted it (as he did after the game!) - whether a player would admit it is why you'd have sanctions in place for dishonesty. It was interesting to read some of Trapattoni's comments after last night's game, when he said just that
"The referee had time to ask the linesman and then after to ask Henry... It would not have been the first time a player would have asked and it would not have been out of turn."
so maybe the onus should lie more with the referee than the player.

To be clichéd and just go back to the well trod "XXX players are more honest than footballers" argument that I mentioned, I'd just like to say that in some sports (e.g. snooker [some might argue it's not really a sport, and more a game, hobby or past-time, but in my eye's it has balls and they're being hit with something, so it counts as sport!]) players are expected to indicate whether they've committed a foul, and as long as you have mutual honesty from both sides things work out fine. I don't expect football players to now start confessing their every onfield indiscretion to the ref, but for certain things if the ref asks them what happened I'd hope they could be honest about it.

At the start of the post I said that one of my dislikes of video refereeing was that it might makes games less exciting to discuss by taking away the controversy. I think my idea could well make thing's even more dull, but at least it'll be honest! ;)