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Have Refereeing Standards Really Taken a Dive Into Decline?

It’s not easy being a referee. It’s not easy being an assistant. The higher up the football ladder they go, the harder it is. The pressure increases, the number of eyes watching and evaluating their every decision increases, and the ramifications for getting just one decision wrong in 90+ minutes of football increases. In recent weeks especially, the isolated referee and his assistants have been under the microscope; both decisions and behaviour have come under scrutiny.

There hasn’t been more mistakes, there hasn’t even been more high profile mistakes, it’s just the situation we’re currently in. Every fall to the floor is a yellow card, either for diving or a player committing a foul, no one is really sure what constitutes a handball and, with every point meaning so much, the smallest mistake by an official is highlighted as criminal.

Each referee has their own interpretation of the laws. Some might choose to apply common sense in one situation, whilst others will stick straight to the laws. For one referee, Southampton deserved two penalties this weekend, for another, and most importantly Andre Marriner who was refereeing their fixture against Swansea, they didn’t.

The human interpretation of the laws is a problem (if you can call it that) that will never be solved. Referees will always be inconsistent when compared to one another, and errors will always occur, because after all, they’re only human. Their individual roles can be helped though, helped in a number of ways.

First of all, and it’s the most simple and obvious assistance, the introduction of goal line technology needs to be pushed through. It’s one pressure that can easily be taken away from the officials and make their life, and job, a lot more easy. It’s impossible for the referee to make a decision on the ball crossing the line from his position on the pitch, that’s a given. It’s also difficult for the assistant to make a decision, especially from set pieces, if just one player is obstructing his view. It’s simple, tests have proven it to work and it will improve referee performance, and therefore football, without damaging the pace of the game.

That, however, is as far as technology should go. Casual fans or middle aged men who have had two much to drink calling up radio phone ins often call for technology all over, but the vast, vast majority will agree that this just wont work in the fast paced and continuous animal of our game. Pundits often can’t make decisions on offsides, penalties and red cards days after the game. Introducing technology for these kind of decisions would only anger players, managers and fans more as the decision, they might argue, could still be wrong even with the help of a second, third or fourth look.

They may be much cricitised and laughed at for ‘waving their pointy stick’, but the assistants behind the goal areas do work, and these are adequate replacements for the football being unable to host an entire system of technology. Their view from behind the pitch offers an angle that can often be hidden from the sight of both referee and his assistant on the line. A goal mouth scramble will offer various obstacles for the officials to get their heads around, and the more angles that can be covered, the better. It’s a work in process, but with the assistance of goal line technology, their only focus will be fouls in the area. Crucial errors inside the box will decrease significantly.

Finally, I do think the referees need to get their head around certain aspects of the laws. As previously mentioned, we’re in a period where it’s a dive or a foul and no one seems to know what constitutes what. Fans are growing frustrated. This isn’t helped with high profile former referees on TV, as well as pundits who claim to be experts on the law, all singing from different hymn sheets. The Danny Rose decision this weekend was a mistake, but it was a mistake fueled by the climate of confusion. I think fans, as well as players and their managers, would appreciate some consistency in this law. Although what constitutes a foul offers much to the referee’s own interpretation, what constitutes a dive shouldn’t. A dive should be a dive. But is it exaggerating a fall? Is it falling with no contact? Is it ‘looking for it’? Oh if only we knew.

We don’t have a problem with referees. The standard in this country is high. It’s easy to forget one of our own refereed a World Cup Final not too long ago, although it’s easy to forget how he managed that. Mistakes are being made like any other time, but everyone associated with the game has had enough with mistakes that can easily be solved by clearing up the laws or some assistance.

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