Thursday, August 23, 2012

Should We Punish the Innocent?

To put this in context, take a look at, "Keep the heat on cheats", from Mirror Football.

It details that to wrongly book players who may not be actually cheating is alright, so long as it is done for the "right reason" of doing so for The Game.

I'm not so sure I agree with this personally.

Trust me, I get that a referee can make mistakes. I have made whoppers throughout my career from the local U6 match, all the way up to the international friendlies I was involved in. Making mistakes in a match is unavoidable, and I found an attitude of "try your best, and fix the rest" was particularly helpful. One can always get better.

There is nothing wrong in my estimation to book a player for something, like a dive, when you genuinely believe in your heart of hearts the player dove. In my career I found myself asking these players often, after the match, if it was, or was not a dive. Some answered honestly, some did not, some declined to answer fearing it would taint my opinion the next time I saw them. In all cases I was trying to learn what goes into a good dive.

If however you are not sure, bringing out a "speculative caution" is a big risk. It alters the management of the match in a big way, and if not really earned, places an undue burden on the cautioned player. Let's face it, a player generally plays differently when playing with a caution, than without.

This also does not take into consideration, at some levels, fines, sanctions, or even suspensions that can occur to a player who has accumulated "points" by so many cautions. Is that fair to punish a player for something they may or may not have done?

Where I believe however, this is at its most dangerous, and referees will not go, is if a player is already under a cation in a match, and commits an offence that, without the previous caution, would have resulted in one, but now with a caution already, a "speculative caution" will likely fail to appear. I just don't think referees will go there.

Where is the consistency there? If a player should be booked, book them. Even if this "speculative booking" should take place, send them off. Right?

I don't think they will because a send off materially changes the match, and to speculate, even for noble reasons, about a players motive, is not appropriate.

In short, the ends (of eradicating diving in players by cautioning) do not justify the means (of speculatively cautioning, or sending off these players).

It's a laudable goal, but I think to guess, and have a handy excuse from the league, is intellectually lazy in this case. If you think they dove, caution them. If you don't know, let them be. If you make a mistake in judging, shame on the player, not the referee. But, the referee should learn form it, not just duck under a handy made excuse.

Now, in speaking out the other side of my mouth, there are times when I think this IS appropriate. Particularly, in offside decisions that are just that close.

We have heard it before, if there is doubt, leave the flag down. This is to promote the attacking nature of The Game.

One in the same? Maybe.

One big distinction to me is that a speculative caution causes harm to individual players that is unrecoverable in the course of the match, where allowing a goal can certainly be harmful to a team, but is generally recoverable in a match.

A fine line distinction ... yes. One I personally can live with though as I have a very difficult time justifying booking a player when I am not really sure if they did it or not.


  1. Wow, I cannot believe that after so many great posts by you that the one I would respond to is this one.

    Agree with you Peter, as a referee, this would seem to be sending the message: referees need to fight this cancer with another potential cancer.

    Can't we use other tools to manage those events when we are unsure (verbal, body language, admonishment, visual, etc.)? However, if a player is trying to buy call by stimulation or exaggeration referees need to recognize those opportunities and not be afraid our hesitant to use the scapel (card) to remove the cancer. The problem, may be that referees fear cautioning something that may lead to a 2nd caution send-off for an offense they, in their mind, may not understand to any degree of certainty.

    My opinion is that the recommendation to referees is: Overcome that fear. You may be wrong, but trust in your understanding of the game, the laws, and the players to stop this activity. Some eggs may be broken in the process and that everyone around the game will need to accept that point. We know that won't happen, and commentators won't give referee crews any benefit. Why are referees giving players and the coaches the benefit, perhaps because they do care.

    Football does need to step it up as we are seeing more flopping and simulation in other sports now too, notably hockey and basketball, why (?)... because the proof is in the highlight videos... IT WORKS, referees are getting schooled. Football has long reputation now for fake injuries (referenced by referees using the gestures to get up), magic spray/sponge, and the old stop-drop-and-roll.

    So don't be afraid referees, use your all your tools available and knowledge of the game to manage your matches and send a message to the cheats, we are 100% sure that someone will be booked incorrectly and still get no more than 85% of the real fakers, but you're all on notice.

    Referees are right to do wrong (?) as they will be wrong sometimes anyway. Not a great statement but the expectation, I guess.

    1. Thanks for the kinds words Anon, and your readership. I value both.

      I think you put it far more articulately than I did, or that the EPL tried to do. Your 2nd to last paragraph I think is precisely the message to referees about not being afraid.

      It may also be the case this was the actual message to the EPL crews at the pre-season conference ... to me the article offered enough "grey area" for me to jump in =)

      You are absolutely correct, referees should not be afraid to make mistakes about diving, or other areas. We agree too that diving is getting particularly bad and that many referees are getting taken to the cleaners by some players.

      My main point, and maybe my only point, is (as you said) a referee needs to use all the tools at their disposal to deal with a situation to get it right whenever possible. Mistakes happen, and cheating players don't help by muddying the water, but we have to try.

      My fear, and it may be unfounded at the highest levels this was intended, is that referees (in general) can't take a "zero tolerance" approach and punish for everything, knowing that they have the backing of the league.

      It's an extreme example not intended for the highest levels, but more for those in the middle levels who may interpret this call to action as a way to be a bit more relaxed about serving out bookings. As you know, that could backfire big time as the anger of a defender who has an attacker dive in front of him after a good tackle, may pale in comparison to the anger of a player legitimately fouled, and the defender should have been sent off, who was going toward goal and awarded a PK, and instead receives a caution themselves.

      I concede an extreme example, but a possibility.

      Like you, my message is do your best, mistakes will happen, learn form them, and the league has your back.

      Thanks for the comment ... I appreciate it greatly.