There came a moment in the USA vs Brazil semi-final game in the 2007 Womens World Cup when one had to issue a red card to FIFA. Fittingly it was the red card call by the Swiss Miss Referee Renghal. She clearly botched the call – Christiane of Brazil had brought Shannon Boxx of the USA down; not the opposite as “observed” by the Swiss Miss.Did the sideline judges intercede ? No of course not. Did FIFA have video instant replay on this most serious calls in football and a means of getting a clarifying message to their referee? No, of course not. Yet the replays, over again screamed wrong call, Wrong Call, WRONG CALL – and so the CBC Sports commentators were reduced to platitudes once again – ” in the heat of the play, things like this slip through cracks”.
But what could not slip through the cracks was the complete unsportsmanlike conduct of Christiane (ironic name) of Brazil. Did she attempt to clarify the situation to the referee? No, of course not. Instead she taunted Boxx and the Americans with a gross gesture and exultation at having achieved the supreme deception – extracting a red card on your opponent when in fact you might have been carded. It was shameful – and shameful of a Brazil that added the adjective “beautiful” to the game of football fifty years ago. And did the Swiss Miss Referee, right on the scene issue, a yellow card for this clear infraction – no, of course not. And it was at this moment the light of this game flickered out and “beautiful” as an adjective departed from Brazilian football – shameful, Shameful, SHAMEFUL – and a Red Card to FIFA.
But don’t blame Brazil alone. There is a style of football coming out of South America which I call Con-Cheatas. The basic idea is that elite teams know that referees are hopelessly out matched in trying to make good calls on the flow of play that is now not only swifter but also 1)marked by 30-50 yard outlet passes, 2)subtle player crossings (moving picks), and 3)ever more closer tackles (is the ball or dribbling player hit first ?) And side judges are preoccupied with ever closer offsides calls (on 30-50 yard passes it is ever more difficult to get these right) or out of bound touches. But football simply does not have a culture towards fostering “lets put our heads together and quickly get this call right” among the officials(in contrast to American Football) and so the referee rules as an emperor on calls rarely consulting his line-judge cohorts. The net result is the referee can be conned – hence the Con-Cheatas style of play that is emanating primarily out of South America.
What is the Con-Cheatas style of play? The whole idea is to con the referee into making a bad call that gives your club advantage – a penalty shot, a free or corner kick, an oppenent player a yellow, or best of all, a red card. So picks, jabs, trips, shirt-holding, elbow swings, jump collapsing are now literally running rampant if the referee is distant and out of postion to make an informed call. And if the referee refuses to take any help from his line staff, then full riot is on. And the preferred Con is the dive, Dive, DIVE style of play. Slight nudge at speed – dive! Any below the knee contact in the opposition’s half of the field – Dive! Any plausible contact in the box and if you can’t make a play then dive, Dive, DIVE!
Canada was host to the 2007 Mens Under-20 World Cup and I looked forward to some magnificent, free-flowing football. These kids would have pace to burn!! Wrong! Instead, lead by the South American teams we were “treated” to Con-Cheatas football – Dive Dive Dive was the order of the day. And over and over again the CBC commentators, both English and Canadian, were heard to comment the referees have been told to call dives yet they are just not doing it to the detriment of the games. And so why not do a Con-Cheaters job on the refs? Time and again referees were hopelessly out of position to make a good call – and heaven forbid that the referee defer to the line judges. And so what do I remember about the 2007 Mens Under-20 World Cup Final ? The Argentina of such recent football greats as Messi, Riquelme, and Tevez out Conned-and-Cheated their Chilean counterparts. The match was not just forgettable; it was tedious and loathsome.
Red Card to FIFA because all of this is avoidable.
FIFA is antediluvian on refereeing reforms. But they are not alone. The NHL-National Hockey League held out from doing the right thing for far too long as well. The word among hockey aficionados was that it simply could not be done – 2 referees officiating a game. The referees would be like fish out of a ice hole, fluttering on the ice and getting in each others way. The game was fast and two referees would bollox each other up while slowing things down. Wrong! Better calls, more quick consensus decisionmaking, fewer but better penalty calls. FIFA Football is the last major sport I know of that relies on one referee to make the crucial on-field penalty calls. It is a sport that has more than enough money, especially in World Cup venues, to provide a second referee plus use instant replays to clarify critical penalty kick nd red card calls. But FIFA in its infinite wisdom says oh no to this. So now Brazil and South America bring the new suffocating Con-Cheatas style of play to football. And beautiful will be gone from football as long as deception of the beleagured referee prevails. It is such a pity a sport known for beauty doing itself officially in.
Give Sepp Blatter and FIFA Football Officialdom a 5th of Whiskey each, maybe if they are drunk they can come up with better rules for Football officiating.