For years fans, commentators, managers and players have called for video replays to help referees get the big decisions in the big games right.
And for years, FIFA has rejected these claims, insisting that we maintain the purity of the sport so that wherever in the world the game is played, at every level it is essentially played with the same basic equipment. Thus the cries for video replays have been answered with 4th and 5th officials and other assistants who’s job it is to… is to, erm… to… well let’s be honest we don’t really know what they do.
Meanwhile, the speed at which we, the match viewing public get to see the replay from multiple angles, undermines the argument of such decisions potentially slowing the game down, and the introduction of goal-line technology has already proved this isn’t necessarily the case. As soon as the ball goes in the ref has a little vibration on his wrist to tell him the ball crossed the line. Boom. Justice. No argument.
But the very fact they’ve changed their tune and solved this problem so successfully using technology means the pressure has now mounted on them to bring in even more technology to solve other things referees get wrong. And this season in the Premier League hardly a week seems to go by without a questionable decision being the focus of at least one game.
Disallowed goals, wrongly given offside goals, inappropriate cards, unseen violence and of course debatable penalties have increased the calls for action to be taken.
This week, FIFA gave an indication of how they intend to answer these calls in the future when they took decisive action following the actions of Ghanian referee Joseph Lamptey.
Back in November, Senegal were dominating the first half of a World Cup Qualifier against South Africa when the ball was headed against the thighs of Senegalese defender Kalidou Koulibaly. Lamptey adjudged that he had used his hands to control the ball, Bafana Bafana scored the resulting penalty and followed it up with what would turn out to be a winner just three minutes later, while Senegal were still in disbelief.
So it’s clear that this was a massive game and a real turning point – just like in the 2010 World Cup when replays showed everyone in the stadium that Lampard’s screamer had indeed crossed the line, would this be the embarrassment FIFA finally see them introduce video replays for referees, in game.
Well, it certainly spurred them into action, but instead of sanctioning more technology and support for the match officials, World Football’s governing body decided to take a rather blunt approach to stop these miscarriages of justice ever happening again.
After a three-month investigation, FIFA this week decided to ban Mr Lamptey from football, for life, for what they called Match Manipulation.
Now, of course, there may be things going on behind the scenes that are yet to come out. But even so, let’s look at what’s happening here: Joe (if I can call him that) is one of African Football’s most qualified officials from the continent, with experience of refereeing at the African Nations and at the Rio Olympics. But FIFA seem to have taken the attitude that rather than help the man in the middle do his job well if you make one mistake, you’re out. For life.
This all came about following an official complaint from Senegal who responded to news of the ban with the following statement: “Today there are many reasons to be happy about this decision – a decision that will be remembered as being significant but will also warn everybody that they are being watched”
Anybody else read George Orwell’s 1984?
My first thought was how is putting more pressure on them going to help in any way?
And then, in a Road to Damascus type moment, I had a vision of what FIFA are aiming for and suddenly I realised that this could actually be the change that we need in football.
Often we hear commentators say the best way to stop diving or shirt pulling or backchat to officials is to send the player off and then almost overnight the behaviour will stop. With that in mind, I predict that FIFA will soon introduce this one strike and you’re out policy to not just cover referees, but everyone involved the game.
I propose that every week each FA should publish a Donald Trump style list of offenders compiled from referees reports and also submissions from fans. Finally, we’d have the opportunity to shape the game to be played in the spirit we want, turn our players into role models once more and basically get rid of everything that annoys us about the modern game…
Just imagine a future where…
…that goalkeeper keeps running the clock down by switching sides for every goal kick? Don’t just book him – ban him!
…that annoying midfield maestro miraculously recovers from a tackle that never touched him before giving his mates the wink? Ban him.
…Wayne Rooney complains about being paid a fortune to eat pasta at 9 am? Ban him
The impact would be incredible. With a regular cull from the nation’s top teams, suddenly those talented youth footballers would be able to break into the first team instead of going out on loan to the middle of nowhere. However, no doubt as soon as they made it there, they’d soon find themselves banned from football for life for breaking the speed limit on the way to training.
Back to the present, it’s worth mentioning that alongside Joe, fellow Ghanaian match official David Lionheart Nii Lartey Laryea faced the same fate but was found not guilty by the FIFA disciplinary committee. The only possible conclusion is that if you have a cool sounding name you can pretty much get away with anything you want.
And if you don’t believe me, let’s see how much Max Power gets away with this weekend for Wigan.
Ant McGinley produces and writes @ontheleftside – Listen to the latest episode here…