Rediff Logo
 Home > Sports > News > Report
 May 6, 2002 | 1025 IST

 -  News
 -  Interview
 -  Specials
 -  Columns
 -  Slide Show
 -  Archives
 -  Search Rediff

 Bathroom singing
 goes techno!

 Your Lipstick

 Make money
 while you sleep.

 Secrets every
 mother should

 Search the Internet
 Cricket, Hockey, Tennis

E-Mail this report to a friend
Print this page Best Printed on  HP Laserjets

FIFA force referees into the limelight

It is a football maxim that a referee has a good game when you do not notice him but once every four years FIFA seem to do their utmost to ensure that referees become the centre of attention.

The sport's governing body can never resist using the World Cup to showcase their latest choice of clampdown measures, guaranteeing widespread confusion, arguments about interpretation and a rigid army of 72 officials steadfastly toeing the latest party line.

FIFA's slogan is "For the good of the game" and they undoubtedly have its best interests at heart when issuing directives.

The problem is that by introducing them for a World Cup they expect players, coaches, officials and fans to suddenly change their whole approach to the game having just completed an entire season playing under different rules.

Consequently the men in black -- and now also a full range of sparkly yellow, red, green and gold -- are obliged to enforce the new regimes in the white heat of a World Cup match.

FIFA's latest instruction to the likes of Pierluigi Collina, the wild-eyed, bald Italian, ice-cool Dane Kim Milton Nilsen and expert Slovak Lubos Michel, is to punish "simulation".

"Simulation is cheating, whether it is diving or rolling around pretending to be hurt when you haven't been touched," FIFA general secretary Michel Zen Ruffinen explained before a seminar with the 72 World Cup officials recently.

"It is our main priority."


As is usually the case with these clampdowns, it is not a question of changing laws which are already in place but of choosing to enforce them.

In some regions it appears to be considered absolutely normal for the victim of a tackle to complete a full pike with twist and roll three or four times before coming to a halt clutching the nearest convenient part of his anatomy, regardless of where, if at all, contact took place.

Worldwide, the slightest brush with a millionaire player's delicate face is usually enough to send him crashing to the turf as if felled by a Mike Tyson uppercut.

Such antics might be acceptable in the showbusiness arena of wrestling but they make soccer something of a laughing stock in the world of real contact sport.

FIFA are right to try to rid the game of such behaviour but, in respect to the divers and rollers, have a difficult task in trying to change the antics of a professional lifetime overnight.

FIFA too, must share some of the blame, as their desperate attempts to outlaw the tackle from behind led in part to a huge increase in diving and faking that has gone generally unpunished for too long.

In the 1994 World Cup, following a much-publicised pre-tournament crackdown, the yellow cards were fluttering like confetti when a player so much as showed an interest in the ball from anywhere except immediately in front of an opponent.

Attackers were quick to see that the referees were on their side and did all they could to help them by flinging their arms skywards and heads backwards in a deluge of alleged damaged Achilles tendons.


FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who said he wanted to outlaw the sliding tackle, and his right-hand man Michel Platini, who wants tackling banned altogether, were delighted.

Such pressure meant that by the 1998 World Cup the tackle from behind had suddenly become an automatic red card offence, causing a series of highly controversial dismissals, particularly in the first round, as players and officials struggled to find common ground.

The referees, traditionally so proud of their use of common sense, are now terrified to use it.

Those who stray are culled as the tournament progresses and to stay in the hunt for the final an official knows he cannot afford to upset his masters.

Sandor Puhl, once regarded as the best referee in the game and who took charge of the 1994 World Cup final, found himself frozen out after making a mistake in 1997.

The Hungarian was suspended by UEFA for six months after failing to even caution Feyenoord defender Paul Bosvelt following a bad challenge on Manchester United defender Denis Irwin during a Champions League match.

Following the ban, Puhl was not selected for the 1998 World Cup finals or Euro 2000, although he continued to take charge of lesser international fixtures.

Puhl, now retired, is not bitter about the decision.

"Above all, a referee needs to love football and want to serve the game," he says. "They need to be aware that the game is not about them."

Back to top
(c) Copyright 2002 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Reuters content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters. Reuters shall not be liable for any errors or delays in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.