In Sunday’s semi-final encounter between Brisbane Roar and Melbourne Victory, the Victory had a goal line clearance waved on and strong penalty chance denied in the dying embers of second half injury time. The two decisions would ultimately prevent Melbourne from a chance at an equalising goal, and see Brisbane progress to next week’s grand final against the Wanderers in their place.
The legitimacy of both claims have been thoroughly discussed by Mark Bosnich and the Fox Sports football commentary team, seeming to suggest that the referee could well have cost the Melbourne Victory any hopes of victory when he chose not to penalise Matt Smith for his challenge on Mark Milligan. As to be expected, Victory coach Kevin Muscat was infuriated by the call (or lack thereof) and the opinion of fans on various Australian sporting websites have indicated a large majority sympathising with the plight of the Melbourne team.
This certainly is not the first refereeing incident in the A-League to court controversy. Only several weeks ago, Brisbane had their own miscarriage of justice when a Thomas Broich pile driver was incorrectly adjudged to have not crossed the line – a call that even a cursory glance at a real-time replay shows to be incorrect. The mistake, while ultimately not affecting the outcome of the game, did create a few blushes for A-League administrators the FFA (and fans), forcing them into the action of investigating additional referees.It also joined a long laundry list of complaints from A-Leagues managers, fans and analysts of officiating that adversely affected the outcome for their team.
At the risk of whipping a dead horse just one more time, I ask: Is it time that the A-League adopted additional measures of adjudication?
At present, world football has produced two separate measures in response to the years of ongoing refereeing blunders – the additional assistant (or fifth) referees, and goal-line technology. As with most progress in the game of football, FIFA has been slow to adopt either of the measures.
Goal-line technology has been in development by FIFA since the start of the 2000s and while the organisation has long been hesitant to implement it on a grand scale, growing success stories are evident. The English Premier League has used the technology for the 2013-14 season, and international tournaments such as the 2012 FIFA Club World Cup and 2013 Confederations Cup have also embraced it. FIFA has also more recently committed to its use at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Overall I suspect that goal-line technology will be adopted as world-wide standard within a few years, including Australia’s own Hyundai A-league. It has been a long time coming (as even countless articles found in The Roar’s search engine would suggest) and is an advancement that provides better outcomes without necessarily rocking the boat too much or requiring radical changes to how the game is played or adjudicated on a global level.
The same cannot be said for additional assistant referees, however it also offers the greatest opportunity for improving the quality of the officiating in Australian and world football. The situations in which the earlier-identified ‘refereeing blunders” occurred are the very bread and butter of additional assistant referees (fifth officials for brevity’s sake) stalking the touch line at either end, and would likely spell a great reduction in their occurrence, or at the very least mitigate the controversy surrounding them.
Some may claim that Sunday’s example is proof that the presence of a referee does not guarantee better decisions. After all, he a relatively unobstructed line of sight of the the incident. However a pragmatic review of the incident shows him quite far from the action still, and in the dying moments of finals football, every referee is going to be hesitant to make a call on anything other than what is right under his nose. It is an unfortunate reality of any competitive sport, but something capable of improvement.
The measure of fifth officials has already been implemented in the 2012 European Cup, as well as the UEFA Champions League and Europa Cup, and a number of domestic leagues from a variety of different continents. These examples indicate the relative success of the initiative: better coverage of the playing field from the officials, fairly seamless operation, and a distinct lack confusion or discord amongst the five men on the field now expected to use their professional opinion – the primary concerns of the critics of any such move.
To use an even more damning example I present the NRL. In a sport notorious for the fans dislike of officiating interference or for sacrificing the game’s fluidity in return for more robust decision-making, an additional referee in the ruck area was introduced a few seasons ago, and has been overwhelming positive for the sport in general (no comment on criticisms levelled at other areas of the game). At the risk of trying to keep-up-with-the Joneses, if a sport that so clearly values the lack of intervention from the officiating can benefit from additional adjudication, then surely the A-League can too.
After all, most of the casual or ‘on-the-fence’ fans of the A-League are the same ones wary of a game where one poor decision can unfairly determine the winner of a match. It is in the A-League’s best interests to provide a product that at least reduces the likelihood of such a scenario, and the introduction of additional assistant referees. It may not avoid all refereeing blunders, but it will almost certainly reduce them. The path to refereeing perfection is a long and arduous road that can only continue through moves such as this.