Tuesday, August 13, 2013

We are the Borg ...

... come on, say it with me.

For any like me who are fans of Star Trek, we know the Borg as a ruthless culture that assimilates everything in its path. They usually entered with a greeting as shown from the below video.

I had this palpable thought that referees are going in this direction when I saw the video from the 2013 MLS all star game, seen below.

So lets take a quick tally:
  • Beeper flags to get signals from ARs - check.
  • Headset to communicate with ARs and Alternate official - check.
  • Stereo microphone to record sound during the match - check.
  • Headset camera to record video during the match - check.
  • Goal line technology to indicate when a ball crosses the goal line - check (soon).
This is crazy folks ... are we referees, or are we simply puppets for all this technology?

Seriously though, do we really need all of this to manage a match?

I get that some of this, like the camera, is for entertainment purposes, for now. But when will we start using it for "instant replay" or even when it gets much better, real time discipline.

Don't think so? Just wait another 10 years and see what we get. By the 2022 World Cup, I think we will see less human, and more Deus ex machina.

It's funny too, FIFA and other cry, and cry for "less mechanical referees", yet right before our eyes we see the opposite. Just have a look.

We are the Borg ...
Locutus of Borg circa 24th Century
Professional soccer referee circa 2013


  1. As much as I totally agree with you about referees becoming slaves to the "machine", I have always wanted to get the referee's perspective.
    The stability of the camera is an obvious detriment, but it gives an angle that is unique (literally). we have so many camera angles for producers to chose from where dissecting a game but this is the first time people can actually "walk (run)" in the shoes of the referee.
    Wonderful video. i wish we can see something like that for assessors and instructors...


    1. Elie,

      I strongly agree with you for use as a training aide, or like I stated, entertainment (a refs' eye view?).

      That said, it seems too inviting a target for the "bow tie bureaucrats" to try and manage a match with.
      A long way off ... maybe ... but I would opine it is closer than we think.

      Imagine a completely stabilized image, which is certainly technically doable, just beyond the price point of this experiment. Can you imagine what would be asked?

      I think it would start with instant replay using that particular feed. Quickly followed by real time calls to a booth referee.

      Too far? Maybe ... but we have already seen far more technology to "help" the referee in the last 5 years than ever before.

      I agree with you though, this is as close to being "in the shoes of the referee" as possible, and if used properly, is a vital training aide.

      Thanks as always for reading and excellent commentary.

  2. Is this any different than what is happening in any other facet of life? Information flows into us at the speed of light from wired-in devices. Blue tooth headsets in our ear 24-7. We park our car with the aid of a rear-view camera (or the car parks itself automatically). And if we commit a traffic violation, our speed is captured on the automated radar gun, our photo is captured on the automated camera, the ticket is mailed out by the computer, and the fine will be debited from our account automatically. All without any human involvement whatsoever. That is real time discipline.

    Soccer is Life.

    1. Ah once again JAFO and I are "at odds" over this topic.

      While he does have the better argument, I think I have a fairly compelling one that I will demonstrate soon.

      Where we both agree is Soccer is indeed Life, and I am happy for it.


  3. Did he actually pat the player's chin at 1:25, asking "estas bien?"???

    We get into that dicey area: OK, we've all been there, we know the players ... a gentle pat on the shoulder, touch to the arm ... but if they touch us, it's assault. We've been warned about the perils of over-familiarity, but here we see it at the pro level.
    This gesture was kindly-intentioned, but say later in the match things are hot and a player does the same thing to him, asking "estas bien?"

    And what is the protracted pointing to the whistle (ie, wait for the whistle) --- OK, and this mechanic is a personal pet peeve --- they all know, especially at this level, they don't need to be told; from a practical perspective, it obstructs the referee's vision; it looks so very "Borg"!


    1. MK,

      Here's where I talk out of both sides of my mouth.

      You should never touch a player ... but at that level it is far more acceptable. You do have to pick your spots however.
      For me personally, I would never touch another players' face at all, even as a gentle gesture. Back, hand, tap on the gut in jest, help them up ... but not in the way the referee did in the video.

      I'm not faulting him, it is just way too personal a gesture for me to genuinely feel like I can make to a player.

      Please note, I will not touch an injured player to give him aide in any way. Certainly help one up, or help them off, but not manipulate an injury like a trainer. That's why there are doctors ... which I am not.

      I personally will rarely touch an amateur player except to shake hands or similar "typical gesture" and will almost never, ever touch a youth player, except if they are in distress or initiate the contact such as a handshake.

      Yes, it is a double message and I am a hypocrite.

      Your initial point is true as well ... if you are willing to touch a player in a particular way a referee has to be willing to take that same level of contact in return. So for example, if you shove a player gently out of the way to keep him from trouble, and he gently shoves back, I would have a very difficult time taking punitive action.

      For me, it's a "do unto others ..." mindset. If I dish it, I have to be willing to get it back in return, which is generally why when I choose to make contact with a professional or international player, it is gentle and meaningful.

      After all, a touch is another very powerful management tool than can be used to great effect if used properly.

      Thanks for reading,