March 26, 2023

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The Reality Check Of Football Officiating

Referee Daniel Bennett of south Africa

Referee Daniel Bennett of south Africa

World Cup Meltdown
After failing to qualify for the world cup for fourth successive time, it appears the nation’s footballing community has been rocked by the unthinkable. That is, taking into perspective the feel and excitement the entire nation has experienced within the last three appearances. The factual and empirical reason is that many journalists, supporters, football officials, government officials and politicians would have wished to tie their itinerary to the cities and venues of football’s grandest festival. Regrettably, all those beliefs and desires are meaningless now.

Amidst the failure, the last major talking point after the performance has been officiating which denied Ghana of qualification at the expense of Egypt and Uganda. It is quite sad that our country’s fiasco took to that murmuring of the refereeing decision. But then, it was a case to revert to the old story of the checks and balances of football officiating.

Kampala Robbery
After the Uganda game, it was clear that the South African referee Daniel Bennett including his assistants Eldrick Adelaide and Steve Marie, showed misjudgments in decisive moments. Generally speaking, the performance of those officials was nothing to write home about. It was one of the most brutish displays of officiating I have ever seen in my entire footballing adventure. But in order not to cry over spilt milk, I chose to wait on the Egypt versus Congo game the next day. However, the Egyptians’ victory cut my dejection short simply because all future protests for a replay would have been academic irrespective of the attempt of the Ghana Football Association (GFA) to the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA).

Refereeing Discourse and its Relevance
Without a doubt, officiating is a major business in football matches. In light of that, FIFA has spent more money to revamp decision making on the field of play. For instance, the goal line technology, Video Assistant Referees (VAR), microphones and transmitting devices are all discoveries that have been incorporated into the modern day refereeing to aid fair judgments in a given game. But the fact of the matter is those inventions have not gone to every border that association football treads its feet along.

Aside from that, the importation of high profile referees from the European game to other nations is a genuine concern that officiating is something very critical if not the most important thing in football games. In recent times, experienced personnel such as Deniz Aytekin (Germany), Howard Webb (England), and Mark Clattenburg (England) were hired and paid to oversee officiating in China, United States and Saudi Arabia respectively.

A lump sum of money is spent on officiating across the world in football, it is also important for us to sit back as a country and analyze refereeing decisions within our local boundaries. Football followers including club officials and journalists in Ghana have spent much time to lampoon the decisions of referees but very little has been done to promote their support and improvement. The high profile names in officiating have failed woefully in certain games, yet have had full support from their associations. Undoubtedly, the Webbs, Clattenburg and a host of other touted big refereeing names have all messed up in one way or the other domestically but have been called upon to officiate at the top level of UEFA and FIFA games.

Pretext of Protest as against FIFA’s Unquestionable Rejoinder

In respect of our failure to qualify for Russia 2018, the GFA called for “the possibility of a replay” due to the precedence that FIFA set on the South Africa and Senegal game. Personally and morally speaking, I felt it was a quick-thinking legitimate move but needless with respect to the historic fabric associated with the Lamptey ban and impending replay of the above-mentioned game. The reason is that Joseph Lamptey was one of our best referees we had in the country, and suffered a lifetime ban by FIFA’s retribution on the account of “unlawfully influencing match results”. In FIFA’s statement on its website when pronouncing a replay of South Africa versus Senegal game, it said: “…a sporting analysis of the match as well as reports of irregular betting activities from various international betting monitoring companies….”

The paradox here is that FIFA could not substantiate or categorically state that the Ghanaian referee Joseph Lamptey connived with betting syndicates to determine the outcome of the said match. The follow-up question is if reports about Joseph Blatter (former FIFA president), Michel Platini (former FIFA vice president) and a host of other senior officials were exposed as having taken some moneys to unlawfully influence the hosting rights of the world cup, amidst losing their respective coveted positions to that effect− then what would prevent FIFA from pointing out the evil of an “ordinary” referee? Until this day, FIFA is yet to communicate the full details as to why Lamptey was banned outright; neither has the GFA sought for the full details on his behalf. It grieves my heart as a Ghanaian and keen follower of the game that the details justifying a referee’s ban are not communicated to the world before punishment is executed.

The Media Shallow Field
Herein, a section of the media descended heavily on the official with very little sympathy as if his error was the first in football history. The sad shift of emphasis was the old school perception which condemns the Ghanaian or African referee as mediocre and bribe-seekers. Against that backdrop, the media failed to ask critical questions taking into account the historical precedence of officiating errors and the punishments that have been meted out across time and space. Conversely, the voice of the media changed a bit when Ghana suffered some similar unfair decisions against Uganda in the penultimate world cup qualifier. Strangely, some media personnel began to feel that Lamptey’s error against Senegal was quite less evil than Bennett’s one.

Recurring decimals of Officiating Errors, Defense Wall and Continuity for Household Names

Today, FIFA has thrown out the protest registered by the GFA on the account of the happenings at Kampala. The emphasis here is that the developed nations in association football have always sought to protect their own. I think it is the main reason why Felix Brych, Viktor Kassai, Martin Atkinson, Bjorn Kuipers, Deniz Aytekin etc. continue to be household names in global football officiating. The fact still remains that those officials commit basic errors to dent the fairness of top-flight games week in, week out. A typical reference of such blunders were last season’s UEFA champions league games between Real Madrid and Bayern Munich officiated by the Hungarian referee Viktor Kassai at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium; and FC Barcelona versus Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) match that was handled by Deniz Aytekin at Camp Nou. Neutral observers would attest to the said games as having been influenced by refereeing errors.

Influence from the Powerhouse and the Necessity to Protect Our Nation and People

The errors of officiating are a global challenge in association football. As always, FIFA is doing its maximum best to curtail them. However, it is much imperative to underline the occurrences of such blunders, study them thoroughly and discourse the different and similar patterns of them; rather than attacking the personalities of individual referees. Again, and for our country Ghana, it is imperative to support our own rather than spewing out some disparaging remarks against their integrity. I also urge the GFA to be vibrant in support of all issues that pertain to any single stakeholder especially at the international level.

Summing up on the lighter note, before someone thinks I am overly patriotic and inward, that person must remember how the Argentines stood for Lionel Messi over an alleged verbal abuse at a Brazilian official in a world cup qualifying match against Chile in March 2017. Both his club side FC Barcelona and the country supported him ─ appealed strongly to FIFA to overturn the ban imposed on him. Surely, there was an amendment and the superstar ended up being the hero to their world cup qualification. The golden right is to criticize, but constructively, in order to protect the image of citizens who light up the nation in the global spectrum. Hence, let us not forget that as others chose to protect and cover their citizen and nation in spite of a rant against a referee ─ it behoves us as a people to protect and fight for the nation’s name at all levels just as we were thought in our national pledge by the songwriter Philip Gbeho “…in all things to uphold and defend the good name of Ghana….”

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