the detestation of the arbitration body took a pathological turn

Ritual in football but unthinkable in other sports, disputes arbitration decisions are part of a system that benefits no one.

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Yellow card for Marseille defender Caleta, 20 October 2019, against Strasbourg.
Yellow card for Marseille defender Caleta, 20 October 2019, against Strasbourg. Boris Horvat / AFP

VSMaybe it's because the whistle of the rugby referees is cooing when the football referees – strident – pierce their ears. The World Cup in Japan has in any case confirmed that never in ovalia one attends the scenes of hysterical disputes in force in the round ball. We can argue that the rules are more severe here than there, including the prohibition for rugby players, except the captain, to discuss with the referee and the penalty of ten meters in case of infringement. But the problem seems deeper, and challenges arise from the ritual.

Retreat to the old saying that "Football is a gentleman's sport practiced by thugs", and rugby its inverse, is not very useful. To say that the rules of the latter are so complex that they are known only officials do not advance us much more … Especially since the decisions in arbitration rugby are also – but not on the ground – the subject of controversy virulent. We can also leave the comparison: football is the only sport in which such scenes are tolerated. The referees are criticized for lacking "psychology" when it is a psychiatry diploma they would need.

Folklore at trial

In fact, the detestation of the arbitral body, inevitable folklore of many disciplines, took a truly pathological turn in football in favor of a vast undertaking of denigration, mainly orchestrated by television.

At a time of slowing imposed by the directors, the retransmissions were contaminated by the unhealthy re-arbitration of the slightest decision, transformed into a hunt for "mistakes" to fuel the arbitrators' trial – which became a major editorial content by intellectual demagogy and laziness.

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This permanent tribunal went hand in hand with an equally unambiguous campaign for video arbitration. Alas, its implementation has quickly liquidated some of its main promises: "It will be the end of the challenges", "There will be more polemics", "It is to help the referees".

Here lies precisely a specificity of football arbitration, tragically ignored. In a very significant number of situations (color of the box, penalty, hand, etc.), the simple rules of football reveal their ambiguity: it is necessary to interpret to decide. A perfectly legitimate decision remains questionable.

The "arguability" of refereeing is in the nature of football, and it partly explains that, more than in other sports, so many decisions are open to challenge, from the lawn to the bleachers. One must ask why the discussion degenerates into such a detestable prosecution.

From traditional scapegoat, the referee has indeed become an expiatory figure to which we can impute the score and all the evils of the match. The coaches are exonerating themselves of their responsibilities on their backs and the leaders can even launch with impunity in unhealthful strategies of influence.

Cultivation of the bad excuse

For the president to the players, it is neither more nor less, placing the referee under constant pressure, than to put him in the worst conditions, to push him to make mistakes in their favor. At the cost of a detestable atmosphere and a fundamentally unsportsmanlike approach.

The challenge of arbitration decisions has a culture of bad excuses. Rare coaches refuse, as rare as Marcelo Bielsa. Anyone can hide behind the referee: this has the advantage of diversion and rallying supporters.

The players are thus taking part in this vast operation of pressurizing referees. It does not matter if their fault is as gross as it is obvious, some protest with formidable accents of sincerity. Perhaps they are always sincere, since all this is reflex.

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Such expressive body language can, of course, disturb the referee or influence his subsequent decisions. Some players find influx or additional motivation. However, one can question the usefulness of revolting so vehemently against irrevocable decisions, by paying warnings and expulsions.

At a time when data analysts are multiplying in football, we can not wait until they manage to quantify the energy and concentration dilapidated in these disputes. Some coaches would soon put the emphasis on nerve control and exploiting the opponent's nerves. For once, fair play would pay off.

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