One of the most unfortunate aspects of the game of soccer is that a match can be swung in favor of one team or another due to human error. In one Champions League game between Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, a pile-up of referee errors tarnished what could have been a memorable victory for Madrid. Unfortunately, the dominant post-match discussion was how Munich was “robbed” of a victory by poor refereeing decisions.
A final score of 4-2 in favor of Madrid did not reflect the events of the match thoroughly. First, Cristiano Ronaldo scored a hat-trick, all three of which were ruled onside in the game, but upon quick replay inspection, they were all were clearly offside. To make matters worse, Arturo Vidal, one of Munich’s standout midfielders, was given a second yellow card after a tackle that was barely, if at all, a foul. As a result, Vidal was ejected from the game. On the other hand, a Madrid midfielder Carlos “Casemiro” Casimiro was not sent off the pitch despite two horrendous tackles that should have warranted his removal. Many Munich fans and players felt cheated after this game ended. The quality of refereeing that allows fiascos in such high-profile games must be addressed by the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), which controls refereeing of the Champions League. The series of events that occurred in Madrid is only the latest in a growing list of referee gaffes that span from national to international matches. But secondly, and more importantly, the technology for video referees needs to be adopted and quickly added to the game. The addition of instant replay and review by an outside official after goals or contested fouls would eliminate the controversy that has engulfed so many matches.
The largest fear of fans and players alike is that the implementation of video referee will interrupt the flow of the match, as the referee would have to stop the game while waiting for information from the extra referee. But the same fear was voiced with the implementation of goal-line technology, and it has been implemented flawlessly. Goal-line technology alerts referees that a goal had been scored through a quick alert sent to a watch that the referee wears during the match. The referee only receives the alert if the ball has completely crossed the line, so they will not need to stop the game unless a goal has been scored.
With the additional video referee, the concept would have to be implemented on the same basis. The case of Ronaldo’s offside goals would be relatively simple: If a goal was scored from an offside play, there is already a stop in play that would give the video referee time to review the replay. The goal could then be called back, and a free kick taken from the spot of the incident during what is a natural stopping point in the match.
Others argue against the implementation of video referees due to the issue of timing. In instances where a player is wrongly sent off—such as Vidal—this presents a huge advantage to the opposing team. But how would a video referee function? Would it force the referee to “take back” a second yellow card? This has never happened in the sport, even at the youth level. And what about the opposite situation, where a player commits a tackle that warrants a sending off—such as with Casemiro—but the referee on the field waves on, how would the video referee address that issue?
The best way to resolve these problems is to improve the quality of referees throughout the world. Despite being incredibly fit to keep up with the pace of professional games, these referees will not be able to keep up with the top-level professionals in games. Those athletes train every day to be quicker and faster. The addition of the video referee in reviewing goals scored will be a fantastic instrument that will greatly aid the referees in performing their job fairly. But the sanctity of the game must also be respected, and the boundaries of video referee technology must be respected.