Thursday, 1 November 2012

A Tale of Two Refs

On Sunday, in the world of sport, the image of impartial refereeing took quite a hit on both sides of the Atlantic.

Almost immediately, after the live coverage of the game between Chelsea and Manchester United ended on Super Sunday, the accusations started flying in the direction of referee Mark Clattenburg who was said to have used 'inappropriate language' towards two different Chelsea players.  The fact that the complaint by Chelsea was done so quickly after the game to the match delegate is quite startling.  Nevermind, the controversy already caused by Clattenburg's decision to send off a second Chelsea player - Fernando Torres - for a contentious second caution, for simulation.  Also, Manchester United's third and winning goal scored by Javier Hernandez was scored from an offside position.

Chelsea, did well to get back from a 2-0 deficit to gain parity with the Red Devils, yet Branislav Ivanovic was sent off for a professional foul on Ashley Young when denying a clear goal-scoring opportunity.  Not much complaint with that one, but then soon after the game descended into chaos following the Torres' dismissal just five minutes after the first one.

The complaint aimed at Clattenburg insinuates he called Jon Obi Mikel a monkey and he also called Spanish international, Juan Mata, a 'Spanish t**t'.  The latter complaint has since been dropped, with Chelsea focusing on the racism charge.

What makes the matter murky is the act of Chelsea bringing independent lawyers to state their case leaves them exposed to a libel suit if the evidence proves unfounded.  The only people who know what was said are the three assistants to Clattenburg - Simon Long, Michael McDonough, Mike Jones - who are all wired up to converse to each other throughout the game; yet these conversations are not recorded.

The failure to be transparent - unlike say rugby union, rugby league and American football - which has miked up officials whose comments to and with players are broadcast to main television rights holder, is a mistake by the English Premier League, which remains a global brand and highly representative sport not just for the sport but for our nation.  As a man in black myself at weekends, I would welcome the need for the conversations to be recorded, why have something like that in the first place if it cannot be a black box like equipment, but the need to broadcast to the spectators is something that is not manageable in this day and age, the pace of the game is too fast to slow it down by having the match referee explain himself.

Take a look at Lee Mason in Wednesday night's League Cup match between Chelsea and Manchester United - he had two penalties, one penalty appeal not given, and a yellow card for a foul that looked like it denied a clear goal-scoring opportunity.  Would Mr. Mason (who was brilliant by the way) have to explain only the decisions given and not the ones he does not - that is why the non-verbal signals are utilised and have been for over 100 years.

Then you look at the NFL on Sunday when the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Washington Redskins, a Redskins defender DeAngelo Hall was ejected from the game for getting into the face of a head linesman Dana McKenzie, whom Hall thought should have thrown a flag for a personal foul on Hall by Emanuel Sanders of the Steelers.

Visually what the people saw was Hall totally losing his cool screaming in the face of McKenzie, prompting the ejection.  This is a worry for the Redskins defence as the threat is that an additional suspension may be served by Hall of one game, yet Hall has come out fighting stating that McKenzie baited Hall by talking smack or jawing off himself prompting Hall's reaction.  Hall is looking for video evidence to back up his statement, and says respect is a two way street.

In this instance, much like Clattenburg, it is hard to believe an experienced proven match official would say anything derogatory or profane in the direction of the player.  The beauty of the NFL is that players play in helmets, so their body language speaks volumes on the field of play, the mistake Hall did was take the helmet off when arguing.  In this combat sport, like in hockey when players throw down their gloves, the helmet removal can be construed as 'Let's go punk!' Hall just did not have the presence of mind to realise he was facing an official, you expect more of a defensive leader and a 29 year old man.

Now a porous Redskins defence must do without one of their better defensive players.  Another question can be where were Hall's team-mates to drag him from this provocative scene, look at the fellow referees of McKenzie's crew who back him swiftly.

It may appear on face value to have been a bad week PR-wise for match officials of two different sports, but under the helmet and off the field of play.  Yet what it occurs to be is two situations when heavily paid professional athletes crying wolf the minute the boot is on the other foot.

That last sentence is not condoning the use of the word 'monkey' towards a black player by Mr.Clattenburg is found to be true, yet it appears to be the height of hyprocrisy from Hall if he takes offence from an official when professional players call the referee all manner of things and said officials must then remain tight-lipped and endure the ordeal of doing something they love.

Follow me on twitter @JamieGarwood

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