Tottenham Hotspur manager Harry Redknapp this week suggested adding an extra referee to help eradicate mistakes made by officials. The proposal came in the aftermath of his side being denied a penalty and a goal wrongly ruled offside in the defeat to Stoke City last weekend, as well as a number of controversial moments in other Premier League matches.
Redknapp’s idea is just the latest proposal to solve the age-old problem of human error by referees. The idea that having a referee in each half somehow halves the chance of an incorrect call does not, in truth, bear any scrutiny. A penalty claim will still be settled by the referee nearest the incident and human error, be it in judgement or position, is still likely to occur. Assuming each referee has jurisdiction over the half they are in, the only logical way it could work, a referee standing on the half way line could not seriously adjudicate an incident near the goal line.
The amount of exertion would be reduced on the referee and, therefore, the mental and physical tiredness that can lead to clouded judgement. But with referees now professional and said to be the fittest they have ever been, it is questionable whether the improvement would be of a magnitude to justify such a fundamental change in the laws of the game. Since Premier League referees became professional in 2001, and fitness improved commensurately, it is arguable whether there has been an equal rise in the quality of officiating or the number of cut-and-dried decisions an average referee has got right.
Redknapp’s intention is admirable. Rather than meekly accepting the status quo and the nonsensical idiom that “these things even themselves out over the season” – a kind way of saying referees may at times be incompetent, but at least they are sometimes incompetent in your favour – he has at least put forth a solution. That it comes from such an experienced, some would say old-school, figure merely underlines the desire for change in the way in which games are officiated. Technology, we are told, is coming. It was reported earlier this month that two of the nine systems tested by FIFA are accurate and fast enough to be potentially used next season.
Technology may not necessarily prove the answer to all of football’s officiating ills but it would at least be a genuine attempt to examine all possibilities. Part of what was so frustrating about football’s refusal to countenance the introduction of technology was the stubbornness it revealed at the heart of the game’s hierarchy. Redknapp’s suggestion shows technology cannot come soon enough.
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