By Paul Gardner
In 1981, I interviewed the aging Sir Stanley Rous, former FIFA president and a cardinal figure in the development of modern refereeing.
I asked him if he thought a set of signals would be a good idea for referees. The question was mischievous. I already knew -- everyone did -- that Rous was vociferously anti. And we all knew his favorite put down. He obliged by promptly using it -- “I don’t want referees behaving like windmills ...”
In my previous column, I quoted statements issued in the 1970s by FIFA and by UEFA, both belittling the very notion of signals, even of mere gestures. Rous was merely continuing the deeply felt opposition to signals.
To assess just how deep that antipathy goes we need know only one thing: Today, some 40 years later, there is still no official set of signals for soccer referees. Nor, to my knowledge, is there any action on the part of the game’s leaders to draw up such a set. Secrecy is preferred. The referee will notbe obliged to let anyone know what call he is making.
Which in the year 2014, in an era when information is flowing more freely than ever before, reveals amazingly archaic thinking. That degree of negativity almost demands to be challenged.
I have enquired many times whether I could obtain transcripts of the conversations that referees have with their assistants or -- of more interest to me -- what it is they say to players. Well, possibly, I might. Maybe. We’ll see. But it has never happened.
The habit of secrecy is so ingrained that it immediately dictates the answer “No” to almost any enquiry about how referees go about their work. Ingrained to the point where it can quite easily act in reverse, at the referees’ cost.
Take the celebrated recent incident in England, when referee Andre Marriner sent off the wrong guy -- for an offense that was later adjudged not to have been an offense at all. We were told that “the FA” had made the decisions, confirming that Marriner got it wrong, twice. And who, exactly, are “the FA”? Sorry, we can’t tell you, we don’t release the names of the panel.
Withholding information has become an accepted practice, not to be questioned. Even when there is no reason for it, when common sense indicates that all the advantages are to be found in disclosure. In transparency.
There are, it seems to me, a number of areas in soccer where the United States could make a solid contribution to transparency -- a much vaunted and, unless we are being systematically deceived, a much desired attribute.
Sadly, the USA shows no sign of wishing to do anything different from what the rest of the world does -- and for rest of the world, you can read the Brits, for that is where virtually all of the refereeing history and attitudes come from.
Much of that history is admirable -- indeed, you have to wonder what other nation would have accomplished so much in trying to be serious about what has been, for most of its 150-year history, primarily a recreational activity.
All that Brit devotion comes at a price. It is accompanied by a hefty dose of snobbishness and pomposity. Borrowing from cricket (a decidedly elitist game in the 19th, and well into the 20th, century), soccer quickly trumpeted its pretensions by adopting the intimidating word “laws” to define its rules.
There is absolutely no reason at all for Americans to use that word, laws. That is not American usage for sports. More importantly, it indicates American submission to Brit culture -- and in this case, that brings in much more unacceptable practices. Elitism among them, of course. And, inevitably, secrecy.
The USA, of all nations, should not be a party to cover-ups. It should be setting an example to the rest of the world, letting daylight into the world of refereeing activities. It is failing to do that.
Read "Part 1: Referees: Soccer's Secret Society" HERE.