Why the Game needs Referees to make mistakes: A defence of human error

Over the past few weeks (more so than usual at least) there has been a constant debate over the subjective nature of refereeing decisions. We’ve seen Dixon and Hansen pleading every weekend with the FA for “clarity” and “consistency,” but they’re missing the point. Unless we scrap the authority of the ref altogether an implement a cold and ruthless video refereeing system, the game will never be free of errors in judgement, of differences in perception. This is not a bad thing.


It all adds to the drama. Its all a matter of individual perception and judgement. The same judgement Kompany would have made the split-second before he decided to use two-feet (off the floor) in his tackle on Nani in the recent FA cup derby. Kompany made the decision to use extreme force in the tackle, and the ref made his decision to give him a straight red card. Yes, he got the ball, but that’s not the point. He made the judgement to use excessive force, he weighed up the pros and cons. Inside Kompany’s huge skull, it probably went something like this:

Pros: Win the ball in style. Look like a hard bastard. Send a message to United. Hurt Nani. (4)

Cons: Potentially break Nani’s legs and end his career. Might get sent off because you’re not allowed to do this. (2)

If we disregard human judgement in football, a game in which judgement and decision-making are vital, then we are taking the vitality out of the game. There would be no excitement. Nobody would make a full-blooded tackle. Personally, as a defender, I thought Kompany’s red was harsh. Great tackle. Nevertheless his sending off is a talking point; a moment of controversy that will be remembered. It would never have happened if we’d have had video refereeing, and in a parallel universe or with a different referee, he wouldn’t have even been booked. Think of all the great incidents that would never have happened if we’d have had video referees: the hand of God would never have been allowed, France would never have qualified for the 2010 World Cup, Frank Lampard’s goal would have been allowed and we might have had a (slim) chance at beating Germany. Okay, fair enough, those aren’t great reasons to advocate the non-use of video referees, but you catch my drift. These are iconic moments in the history of sport. Video referees will ensure the game becomes placid, stale, and boring.

Think about the nature of refereeing in relation to popular support. The ref is always going to fall foul of half the fans involved in the game, be it in the stadium or at home, when his decision offends their team. There is always going to be uncertainty, inconsistency, bias, and skewed perceptions of incidents that happen during games. Long may it continue.

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