Of Gods, Referees and Umpires

I’d love to hear what our friends PaulaR (field hockey and basketball referee) and Boltgirl (who I believe is a soccer ref) think about all the focus on referees, umpires, reviewing vs. not reviewing calls, etc.  The most recent example of referee-inspired controversy occurred in yesterday’s World Cup match between the US and Slovinia.

I don’t know about you … but in the heat-of-the-moment, I am amazed that these guys are able to see small details as well as they do.  That said, it sounds like the ‘mistake’ yesterday may have crossed the line into egregious territory. 

Here’s Grant Wahl on the matter … adding some ineresting perspective on blaming the referee …

As much as I love soccer, I do get extremely frustrated by how often the postgame discussion revolves around the referee’s decisions. No sport, not even NBA basketball, approaches soccer when it comes to officiating controversy. And no sport does less to provide teams and fans with explanations for refereeing decisions. The fact is that we may never know why Coulibaly waved off the U.S. goal — FIFA doesn’t allow a pool reporter to interview the referee, as most sports do, and I got no response when I e-mailed FIFA’s head press officer in search of an explanation.

In the postgame mixed zone, U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati said he hadn’t seen replays yet, but he had received 43 text messages from people who had watched the replay and not seen a foul. “We don’t know what the foul was,” said Gulati. “We’ll ask, but they’re not required to tell us.”

Of course, one thing that you always have to remember about getting jobbed by the referee is this: It wasn’t the referee’s fault that the U.S. went down 2-0 in the first half, and it wasn’t the referee’s fault that the Americans couldn’t score an additional goal in the rest of the 90-minute game.

So basically, what I take from this is that the ref is definitely a part of the game … but to blame him or her for the outcome is a little like blaming one’s parents for the fact that one isn’t the CEO of a Fortune 500 Company.  I mean, that may be a factor … but there’s a bit more involved than just that.

It also reinforces my gut feeling that being god-in-a-striped-shirt is a tough gig – and not one that I would ever-in-a-million-years-want!  It’s way tougher than being a mere human.  Making calls that decide the outcomes of games … the fates of individuals, teams, and nations … ugh!  You’re going to have half of the people involved angry at you, pretty much by definition.  And really, the best you can hope for is that you go unnoticed … that’s the only sure sign that you’ve done well.

So … decisive power and invisibility … interesting aspirations to hold.

I am glad that refs get paid for what they do … otherwise it’d definitely be a pursuit that would seem indicative of some sort of disorder … don’t you think?

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7 Responses to Of Gods, Referees and Umpires

  1. Ski says:

    I appreciate that refereeing is tough but one would hope in a World Cup game, referees with proved reliability were the standard. The ref from Mali had had plenty of complaints in the African Cup, the only other major tournament he participated in. He did a lousy game of controlling this game and never once stopped play and cautioned players to knock it off. In almost every other WC game, refs make it clear when players are crossing a line, whether they speak the same language or not. This was a huge blow for the USA; now new fans to the game will say not only do they not understand offsides but that refs are arbitrary and capricious. Sad.

    All three US goals were things of beauty. I do not buy the logic that because you went down 0-2, you shouldn’t be allowed to win. That’s bollocks.

    FIFA needs to do better.


  2. Paula Rockwell says:

    touche Boltgirl…When someone complains to me, I always mention that the reffing course (in what ever course) happens every year and we would welcome them with open arms to get certified and come on out and join us. I particularly love it when a student/athlete graduates, goes to college, them comes back to ref..Whole lot different on the other side of the whistle. Makes me smile.


  3. boltgirl says:

    Yep, yep, yep. It’s a thankless job, and, as Paula pointed out, you’re pretty much guaranteed to piss off half the people on/around the field every time you blow your whistle. Soccer is particularly brutal for refs–a space larger than a football field with 22 players on it and three sets of eyes–although the guys who do rugby sevens probably have it worse. That said, the US-Slovenia ref completely biffed that game. Not just the disallowed goal, but really the entire game; he was in over his head and it showed.

    Gutted as I was by that call, I’m also forever indebted to the man. From now on, every time a player tells me the call I just made is the worst one s/he’s ever seen, I can honestly reply no, actually, it isn’t.


  4. Hey there Paula –

    Thanks for your beautiful comment … I have printed it out to add to the island fare … 😉

    I’ve never been one to yell at the refs … but I have gotten a whole different take on the subject, watching you ref. It can be BRUTAL! I appreciate that people put themselves out … and generally tend to see the calls as a part of the game.

    I totally agree with you about the whole perfect game episode … although I still harbor the hope that at some point 5 or 10 years down the road, the last call will be overturned. But I’m totally okay with the lessons learned … and maybe overturning the call – even that far in the future – would undermine the meaning of the lessons.

    Stay cool today!

    PS Did you send your comment via your Droid? 😉


  5. Paula Rockwell says:

    I have been pondering your “Gods, Referees and Umpires” blog and how to contribute to the conversation. I read it yesterday before heading off to ref some AAU basketball games. Teenage girls..Anyways, twice during my 4 games I blew my whistle, stopped the game.In the first instance,I walked over and calmly spoke to an assistant coach who was constantly chirping in my ear about “moving screens”, while I let it go at first, then the parents started in as well. I asked him to please keep his comments to himself, that I will listen to the head coach but not to him. He asked about moving screens and I politely educated him. He did come up to me after the game and told me he always held me in high regard as a ref and he apologized and thanked me for not giving him a “T”. The second time I stopped the game, a parent was keeping the book at the table with the timer and was a verbal garbage pale from the toss. I blew the whistle and went to the table to remind him that he was part of the official crew when he sat at the table and if I heard any other commentary he would be asked to leave the gym. He had big attitude but was quiet. Both cases I could have “T’d” them up and got some tempers stoked, but chose not to. These are experiences I have every time I get on a field hockey field or basketball court. Its other adults that “teach” our young athletes and are usually the root cause of problems I encounter. Reffing is not easy. 10 people on a court, that is 20 legs and 20 arms with 4 eyes watching(maybe 6 in 3 person crew). Good refs are not dramatic and try to let a flow of the game happen while enforcing the rules of the game. We try to blend in and not be remembered. We always want the athletes to decide the game, not a last minute call. That being said, as a ref you have to be willing to ref until the last second and make the big call. I know shit happens, umpires make obvious mistakes, like the one a few weeks ago surrounding the perfect game. Well I heard more discussions out and about regarding the outstanding sportsmanship involved on all sides and it was such a teachable, ahha moment to have discussions with young kids. Way more valuable to me than a perfect game. There are good refs, bad refs and lots of mediocre refs. Some are crooked, some can be taken, some are just average folk like me hoping to keep active and involved. We are human beings with egos, faults, insecurities. That soccer guy will always be remembered as a bad ref, “the one who….”
    Anyways, there are my random thoughts. Sometimes I leave a contest(usually basketball) and wonder why the heck I put myself thru such crap, because in a full gym you can only please half the people. But I just keep putting on my stripes and going out onto the court to give the athletes the best game that I can and hope that the adults in the room act respectfully.


  6. I have not seen the game (yet) … but … reeducation camp sounds seriously scary? Dick Cheney won’t be there, will he?


  7. Alice says:

    It wasn’t the lost US goal that appalled me–it was the constant Slovinia fouling that was ignored over and over again. I’m talking dangerous fouling that could injure players–it was a miracle that it didn’t. I don’t think he–or referees in general–should be given a pass for obvious bias. This guy deserves a reprimand at least or better yet sent to a reeducation camp until he agrees to enforce soccer’s rules of the game.

    So there!


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