A red card for the refs?

21 June 2010

Written by: Lawrie Zion

It is the holiest month of them all for football-lovers. No friendly game, league match or international contest can compare to the World Cup – the most eagerly anticipated sporting event of them all.

Much of the hype leading up to South Africa 2010 was intensified in Australia with the Socceroos second consecutive qualification.  

With footballmania taking over the country, even those who are strangers to the game have tried their utmost best to understand the offside rule.

For most, however, it has been a disappointing Socceroos campaign. Yet for those of us who have followed the Socceroos players in their respective clubs both locally and abroad, the outcome so far has been somewhat predictable.

The Socceroos squad remains almost identical to the one that reached the Final 16 in 2006. This means that most of the players have aged four years.  In football, four years is a long time.  Unlike wine, footballers don’t always get better with age (though an exception could be goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer, who at 37, continues to amaze).

While the 4-0 loss to Germany in Australia’s opening game was heartbreaking for many, it wasn’t a shock. 

Ditto with the draw with Ghana. 

The Socceroos now rely on a solid win against Serbia, and a mathematical miracle in the Germany versus Ghana game to see them through the group stage.

But this was predicted by many football analysts, both professional and amateur, before the Socceroos campaign.

The Germany game was a tactical disaster. Coach Pim Verbeek tried to rectify this by a smarter line-up against Ghana, but again disappointed by not making an immediate tactical change after the Socceroos conceded the penalty goal.

But the level of disappointment many Socceroos fans may have faced over the past week has been felt by many football fans throughout the entire tournament.

It has been nothing short of utter frustration.

But this isn’t because of the under-performing favourites Spain or Brazil. Or the low goal average of the tournament.

Or even the ear-bruising vuvuzelas.

The biggest disappointment has been the poor and often costly judgment calls by the FIFA referees. And Australia knows this all too well.

An unfair red card to midfielder-made-striker Tim Cahill against the Germany game was the turning point of the game.

So was Harry Kewell’s send off for the alleged handball on the goal line in the Ghana game.

But the over-use of the cards hasn’t just affected the Socceroos. South Africa’s goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune was sent off in his country’s clash with Uruguay, becoming the second ever keeper in World Cup finals history to receive a red card.

In the Germany versus Serbia game, the referee showed an amazing eight yellow cards, and sent off striker Mirolsav Klose for this tackle. 

And yet a clear and deliberate hand ball by Nemanja Vidic in that game in the penalty area only resulted in a yellow card.

And in Brazil’s clash with Ivory Coast, Real Madrid’s star Kaka was sent off after the brilliant acting by Abdelkader Keita, who exaggerated the impact of Kaka’s nudge in a way few professional actors can.

Kaka’s send off proved one thing: that most of the red cards which have been issued in the tournament thus far have been poor judgement calls by the referees and simply too harsh.

The World Cup has traditionally been a place where the yellow and red cards have been used more often by referees when compared to league matches.

There are a few reasons for this, the most important being the low level of tolerance FIFA has constantly emphasised on inappropriate tackles and behaviour in an event which attracts billions of viewers worldwide.  

But it’s when the cards start becoming unfair and unjust that it constitutes a problem.

In the World Cup, a red card means an automatic one-match ban suspension for the player.  Football fans are urging FIFA to reconsider this rule, which isn’t such a bad idea.

This would mean that FIFA would review the red card decision.

Let’s take Tim Cahill’s send off as an example.  When reviewing the footage, FIFA could easily determine that it was Cahill’s intention to go for the ball, and when he realised that he had misjudged it, had his knees bent in an effort to get out of the tackle.  This is clearly not a red card.

In such a case, FIFA could then exercise discretion to overrule the automatic one-match ban on Cahill. 

After all, he had already been punished by being sent off the game, and Australia had been punished by being reduced to ten men.

The lack of consistency and the poor decisions by the referees have proved costly in so many matches in this World Cup that FIFA ought to devise a method of being fairer on the players while protecting its referee’s integrity.

Unlike in any other sport, an incorrect decision by the referee in football is often the turning point of any game. 

And in football, this is what makes the difference between a win and a loss.

Erdem Koc is a radio journalist at SBS. He is a Law/Media Studies graduate from La Trobe University and a former editor of upstart