The Rational Ref

Keeping recordings of referees is sound move

Moves to capture on-pitch conversations could go a stage further

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 30 November, 2012, 2:20am

In the aftermath of Chelsea's quashed racism charge against referee Mark Clattenburg, there are noises being sounded out to prevent similar incidents from happening again.

Technophobes like Uefa chief Michel Platini will not be pleased, but the general manager of England's professional referees organisation, Mike Riley, said recordings will now be kept of all EPL referees' communication system on a private basis. Any accusation that a referee has used "inappropriate language" can then be examined, if needed.

An added benefit of having referee microphone recordings is that situations such as the John Terry and Anton Ferdinand racism charge last year, which dragged on for an entire season, may now be swiftly dealt with. In that scenario, had referee Chris Foy's communication system been recorded, the verbal jibe between Terry and Ferdinand would have been picked up. Such evidence is preferable to relying on personal testimony and witness statements.

There is yet another benefit in keeping recordings. They will deter players from using abusive language since they will know it may be retrospectively used to sanction them. Compared with the current situation of "player power", sound recordings can help curb their disrespectful behaviour.

Because of this deterrent effect, Rational Ref would like to go one step further with sound in soccer matches. Instead of archiving away the recordings for private use, why not broadcast the pitch-side language to the public? Rugby referees yet again have led the way in the use of this technology. Their conversations with players are openly broadcast which leaves no doubt about a referee's decision, and whether a player shows disrespect and uses inappropriate language.

To outside observers, pitch-side and dugout conversations have always been hugely yet mysteriously fascinating. Beyond the basic lip-synching of F- and C-words by professional players that are broadcast live every weekend, it would be interesting to hear what coaches and players are actually saying.

Apparently, Wayne Rooney uses an expletive every other word. If only the public could hear exactly what professional players and coaches shout at one another and at officials during matches. There would be two immediately obvious benefits. First, the public would be horrified knowing the use of swear words among clubs. Second, clubs would force their employees to clean up their image since they rely on being family-friendly and wholesome organisations for its supporters, rather than being seen to support loutish, uncouth and anti-social behaviour.

The recording of referee's conversations is a sound idea, but also reveals a pathetic state of affairs regarding the status of match officials.

Credibility, integrity and trust are at issue here. This column has mentioned before that match officials would not jeopardise their own credibility by using the very words and gestures they are trained to deal with when disciplining players who are offensive, insulting and abusive.

It makes no sense for match officials to "shoot themselves in the foot". Nonetheless, to eliminate future personal testimonies of "He said" and "I heard" of the Chelsea-Clattenburg conspiracy saga, it is understandable why digital recordings will be archived for evidence as a self-preservation mechanism for match officials.

Generally speaking, the integrity and honesty of match officials is impeccable and undoubtedly superior to the foul-mouthed and biased machinations of players.

It is unbelievable that players get away with saying the most inappropriate things, either to each other or to match officials, whereas match officials have to defend themselves against false allegations.

A person is innocent until proven guilty but not, it seems, if that person is a soccer referee. That is incredibly offensive, insulting and disrespectful. Just imagine a competent judge or police chief having to suddenly defend themselves, with their careers on the line, against allegations unbecoming of a member of their profession that are based on hearsay.

That's exactly what 37-year-old Mark Clattenburg has had to endure. Clattenburg had his career and reputation on the line; but what about the Chelsea players who made the unproven allegations? Without so much as an official apology to Clattenburg (and only an expression of "regret"), Chelsea's response to their spoilt and inappropriate actions has been appalling, to say the least.

If followed through, Clattenburg's case could have far-reaching consequences. The FA has a Respect campaign, which derives from Fifa's and Uefa's principles of "Respect for the Game" and "Fair Play".

If Uefa can invoke sanctions against Shakhtar Donetsk's Luiz Adriano for "violation of the principles of conduct" when he scored an unsporting goal against Nordsjaelland in a Champions League group match last month, then the FA should similarly "throw the book" at Chelsea and their players for their irresponsible and dishonorable conduct.