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Xaor's Corner: The Ruddy Refs


For the tenth Xaor’s Corner article I’m going to rant about referees, which is more or less my favourite hobby. See all previous posts here: http://fifasoccerblog.com/blog/tag/xaor/

Anyone who has the misfortune of following my twitter account when I happen to be watching a football match will probably have been treated to my tirading fury about the men in black, FA, UEFA, and FIFA (the federation) in regards to how matches are officiated. The featured picture, by the way, comes from a hilarious incident at the South African World Cup.

It seems an especially appropriate time when just last weekend we saw yet another flurry of high profile, and highly controversial decisions to look at FIFA (the game’s) referees. While Sir Alex Ferguson may have shouted the loudest at the poor decision to give a penalty against his team, there were also questionable red card decisions, penalties not given, goals disallowed which were fine and goals allowed which should have been ruled out: just another week in the Premier League these days. I could quite happily write this entire piece about my woes with real life referees, probably going as far as arguing that we here in England are ignorant to a Calciopoli style scandal going on right under our noses (and if it can happen in Turkey, Greece, and Italy, it can surely happen here too)… but this is FIFASoccerBlog and this article therefore is about FIFA’s referees, and I think it’s fair to say that FIFA’s referees could do with some improvement right now.

If anything, getting FIFA’s referees right should be a relative breeze: certainly it should be little more than a mathematical test to check whether a player is offside or whether a ball has crossed any particular line. The game also doesn’t have to deal with a referee, or assistant’s distance away from an incident or ability to see the critical area due to the angle. Nor should there be any question of inconsistency, bias, or, dare I say it, full on corruption, like there is in the real world.

To make it even easier, EA’s policy on diving (you can’t dive) means that that eventuality doesn’t need to be worried about. Handballs too are basically neglected: there are options to penalise handballs but these are off by default and hardcoded off online for good reason – handballs are only penalised if they are intentional and there is no way a player can intentionally ‘handball’ in FIFA, nor is there any intelligence in the players to make them avoid the ball with their hands. While handballs may be authentic, it’s simply not worth EA putting the time in to make them work realistically while sacrificing the game’s fairness.

That really leaves EA with two objectives. First they need to correctly represent the explicit rules of the game – something they have not always got right, what with offsides being applied on goalkicks – and second they need to come up with a believable system for punishing fouls. Time and time again this year I have suffered with referees simply not following one of the least ambiguous rules in football: that if you take someone out when they are the last man, you receive a red. FIFA does have this rule, but it seems when it’s also a penalty the red card is waived. In fact, FIFA often seems to be more lenient in the penalty area than outside of it, which is strange because that’s the exact opposite of how it ought to be.

Most foul decisions on the other hand are significantly more complex, not least because there is a significant degree of ambiguity in what is and isn’t a foul? What does and doesn’t constitute a yellow card? What does and doesn’t constitute a second yellow? And what does and doesn’t constitute a red? FIFA already deals with this to an extent – the refereeing personality added in FIFA 11 means that we have referees who give everything and referees who give nothing, but outside of that it’s still very shallow.

The best example is how FIFA deals with repeat fouls, in that it basically doesn’t. How often do we see a referee wagging his finger of flailing his arms at a player to warn him that it’s his last chance, and not to do it again only for him to do it again and get precisely the same response? There is never any sense in which a player is actually on thin ice, even if the commentators do say so, and adding some kind of match-length memory to the referees should be a first port of call. If there is one thing my hobby of investigating real life referees has taught me is that their decisions are based at least as much on what has happened so far as what actually happened in any particular incident: a referee in real life will react to the same foul in many different ways dependent on previous fouls, the match time, whether it’s an intense derby or an expected walk-over, and so forth. One could also say that referees seem to react significantly differently to a foul coming from X team or Y – a level of depth which should not be part of FIFA.

Finally, to pick on a problem specific to online play, there is still plenty of abuse when it comes to malicious and cynical tackles to prevent the opponent scoring. I’m sure most people have experienced this before – you’re in the 90th minute and one on one with the keeper, before you’re taken out from behind. Why? Well, the better question is why not? The disadvantage is that you give away a freekick, which is much less likely to be scored than a one-on-one, and you lose a player for all of 30 seconds. In real life there is plenty of reason not to do it – a player would be served a three match ban for the tackle: but there is no such construct online.

It’s easy enough to see why there is no such system online, but it’s clear that a similar type of disincentive as the suspension would be beneficial here to crack down continually aggressive tackling. Ideally, you’d have a system which mimicked real life suspensions: you get a player sent off or he gets too many yellow cards and you might not be able to use him next match. It may be a tricky fit though, given the ability to play with a different team every match online – but it’s inclusion would be something vastly beneficial to the ‘Seasons’ feel of Seasons, and the same would be true in Pro Clubs.

I may loathe most of the referees in the real world for the rest of my life, but there is really no reason for anyone to feel that way about FIFA’s. FIFA’s referees have it real easy, they don’t have to deal with Cristiano Ronaldo’s dives or Lampard’s ball-which-most-definitely-crossed-the-line, or their real life counterparts’ purported blindness and lack of fitness: but they do absolutely need to be able to lay out the rules of the game consistently and fairly, and hopefully with an added authentic layer of depth too. There is simply no reason for me to be cursing the referee as the reason why I didn’t get promoted in Seasons – even if such disgraceful things are all too common in real life.

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