Wednesday, June 25, 2014

He bites me ... He bites me not

So for folks looking on at ITA v. URU we were treated to a pretty good match, and a gruesome incident in the 79' when Uruguay's Luis Suarez appears to bite Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini.

Take a look here for video and HD stills which may make the case.

Now I am not going to take up the did he or did he not bite Chiellini. My question is, if the referee did not see the incident with his very own eyes, can he take action on it? After all Chiellini and most of the Italian team ran over to the referee showing him what appeared to be a bite mark on his shoulder.

My answer to the question is a resounding YES! A referee can, and frankly should, take action even absent directly witnessing an incident.

Now be careful ... do ends justify the means? So in other words if a referee misses a tackle, and a player winds up with a broken leg, should they get sent off?

My answer here is a resounding NO! Just because a "bad thing" has occurred, does not automatically give rise to punitive action by the referee, there has to be causation, not just correlation.

That difference is stark. As an example, shark attacks on humans track with ice cream sales at the beaches that the attacks occur at. Causation? So are we saying that ice cream sales at  a beach cause shark attacks? Absolutely not, there is simply a correlation between the two.

(Please note the irony as sharks attack by biting)

Same inside the field ...

If a situation occurs that you as a referee do not witness, and assuming that none of the assistants saw it, 4th official (we know that guy!) and you can't somehow glean the information from (for example) the jumbotron in that small space in time when you need to make a decision, then you need to ask causation or correlation.

In our case, bite marks in the back of a player and the offending player holding his mouth is strongly causal ... but is it enough?

Referee Marco Antonio Rodriguez (MEX) did not think so, but I may disagree with that outcome.

Don't get me wrong, to turn around and send Suarez off at that point would take big brass ones, and likely (and wrongly) end the tournament for Rodriguez ... but is it the right thing to do for The Game.

Now, if FIFA fails to take any action, or any meaningful action (like fine Suarez) then shame on FIFA and it bolsters my thoughts to send him off and let FIFA sort out the protests.

In much the same way we would likely send off a player in a Sunday league (for their own safety) if they perpetrated such an offense, the same should hold here.

Of course that is not really true as the laws of physics change at this tournament ... but something so vile to the game should not be an exception.

By the way ... thoughts on a call here? Rodriguez knew something was up enough to stop play for something that happened behind the play ... so we have a free kick, likely direct. What about the send off (if there were one)?

Yes, Violent Conduct, NOT Serious Foul Play as it occurred away from the ball.

I'll update on punishment from FIFA, but as of now they have started an investigation, focusing primarily on the referees report (ya think those need to be well written?).

They do however have the option of (2) year or (24) International Match ban if they have sufficient evidence, beginning with the referees report. Check out Article 19 from the FIFA Disciplinary Code to see that little nugget.

From there, it will be interesting to see if they choose to use video evidence from the (34) cameras watching the match ... and if they want to ban one of their stars from their tournament.


  1. Peter, I was hoping this would be the big topic today!! I very much wanted to ask that at the highest levels, like where you have been, does not seeing it as it happens mean you have to ignore it? No one saw it as it happens (well the cameras did) and there was clearly more than enough visable signs of what had happend. It doesn't take a doctor to spot fresh teeth marks and the very red skin surrounding the bite area to put 2 adn 2 together. So you know what happened, you know who did it, but you didn't see it happen. I would assume that the bigscreens there would be playing it over a few times as well.

    What would you do here? Do you send them off? Does it matter any that it is a "big name" player that committed the offense? Does it matter that it happened at the World Cup?

    If it were to happen in one of my games I feel I would have no issues sending the player off with so much presented before me to pass judgement.

  2. Steve,

    Thanks for the note. At the MLS and international friendlies that I have done, it is more important to get it right than anything else. Also, to get it right by any means ... seen or unseen.

    This is where correlation and causation come in. If something is easily determined to be causal, seen or unseen, then it should be, and I have personally, punished for.

    If something is correlative, it is much harder to make the case for punishment, unless it can be determined as causal in the microscopic amount of time given to do so.

    For me, this is a send off at all the levels I participated in.

    That said, this is the World Cup and referees have been sent home for much less. Recall Esse in 1998, when his decision with Brazil was absolutely correct (in the pulling of the shirt of a Danish player in the penalty area resulting in a PK), yet was (wrongly) sent home in disgrace.

    I can appreciate why the referee in this case was hesitant, even though he "smelled" what was going on as he came back to punish them. While for me, it is still a send off as there seemed to be enough there to determine actual causation in that small span of time, I recognize the World Cup can warp physics in how referees look at things.

    Ultimately I think the right result mostly occurred when FIFA punished Suarez, but also felt that a send off was justified ... and sell-able at the time of the incident.

    Thanks for reading,