I have not come anywhere near a professional field in ages, but I started using electronic communication a decade ago with college soccer. I have seen it used in a few high-level youth games, too. Yet the vast majority of my games are officiated without any electronic communication whatsoever, which obviously includes all the games that I ref solo.
This is part of the issue in many officials’ reluctant acceptance of electronic communication as they are not used to working with it. But I have found it especially helpful in these circumstances:
• The ref is misapplying a rule so the assistant referees need to let the ref know before play is restarted.
• The ref is not seeing persistent infringement but one of the ARs is and informs the ref, “No. 8 white keeps on fouling No. 10 blue. This is No. 8’s third foul on No. 10.”
• The referee does not see the assistant’s raised flag. This generally happens when the ref is standing in the middle of the field, the AR raises the flag for offside on the left wing forward and the ref forgot to turn and look at the AR.
• The referee does not understand the assistant’s signal or wonders if the AR saw something that the referee did not. With electronic communication, the ref no longer has to walk over to the AR to discuss.
• The ball deflects off a player by the ref and then goes over the touchline by the AR. The AR is supposed to signal the direction of the throw but it puts the AR in a bad spot if the ref does not help the AR with direction. In the past, it could be a subtle signal from the ref but now the two can communicate electronically.
• The ref wants the AR’s to watch certain players, particularly off the ball while the ref’s back is turned.
• The referee verbally warns a player. In this case, the ref could put the communication device on (if it’s not open mic) so the ARs hear what the ref is saying to the player.
But even with electronic communication, the ref will often still go over to the AR to talk over major decisions as the officials want to take the time to think and process and make certain that there is not any miscommunication between officials, which can happen when electronic communication is used.
Thinking back through my games, I can think of instances where electronic communication would have helped but was not available yet.
One such game was a men’s college match. I was AR2, the assistant referee away from the benches. Early in the second half of a tight game, a blue player on the touchline near the white bench deliberately kicked the legs of a white player off the ball. The ref had his back turned to this incident as he was watching the ball. AR1 said that he did not see it. But I did.
I twirled my flag. By the time my flag was spotted and the ref ran across the field, the culprit had run away. I gave the ref the number of the blue player that he had to send off, which he did. The blue team argued it was No. 20, not No. 23, who should have been ejected. But the tape they sent the conference was very inconclusive as it had followed the ball and did not show the incident plus the numbers were extremely difficult to see on the tape.
I spent lots of time watching the tape. The conference asked my opinion and said there was very little difference statistically between No. 20 and No. 23 and asked who I thought the conference should suspend. I told the conference that if there was little difference statistically between the players, the blue team was willing to rat out No. 20 and the white team captain told the officials after the game while shaking our hands, “Wasn’t it No. 20 who kicked our player?” -- then I’ll admit that I probably misidentified the player at the time and they should suspend No. 20 instead of No. 23.
This was a low point of my officiating career and all this watching of videos and e-mails between the conference, coaches and officials would have been avoided if we had electronic communication at the time. Because as soon as the incident occurred, I would have informed the ref, “A white player now on the ground on the touchline behind you was just kicked by a blue player now running up the touchline by the white bench. You need to send off that blue player for violent conduct and restart play with a direct kick for white by the touchline where the downed player is.”