Man (caught) in the middle

by Pavan Mano

Cuneyt CakirIf we accept Manchester United’s claim that it has 659 million followers worldwide, then Cuneyt Cakir is now being cursed, jeered, sworn at, and vilified by every single one of that 659 million; he is helped in no small part by his stunning decision to hand Nani a red card – and perhaps consigning United to a Champions League exit – for a challenge that was clumsy, at worst.

But perhaps we shouldn’t blame Cakir. He is after all, only human – humans make errors. We are inherently imperfect, mistakes are part and parcel of human nature. Short of inventing a robot to objectively adjudicate a game, we must accept that errors of judgement will happen. Or so we’re told.

The leaders of the two biggest organizations in international football, Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini have been steadfast in refusing to even consider the use of video technology or video replays. Countless suggestions have been put forth, various best practices from other sports proposed, innovative methods of implementation offered – all have been rejected out of hand.

Only recently has Blatter looked to come round to the idea of using technology to help referees; even so, he has stopped at goal-line technology. Using video replays to help the referee in reviewing penalty calls, offside decisions, indeed, even potential sending offs, is firmly off the table.

Blatter and Platini have both sung a similar tune – video replays will destroy the game. And while Blatter looks to have at least softened his anti-technology stance slightly, Platini remains opposed to it as ever.

In an interview with France’s L’Equipe in Dec 2011, Platini claimed “Video is not for football. Human (adjudication) is better. Football became popular thanks to its human values.”

Just how out of touch is this man? Referees like Cakir, and in the past, Anders Frisk, Howard Webb, Mark Clattenburg, Tom Henning Ovrebo, Urs Meier (the list goes on), have been pilloried, threatened, intimidated because of their high-profile errors.

But who can truly blame them? How can we reasonably expect a human-being to not make mistakes? In the past, referees made mistakes but nobody could pick up on it – we saw the same thing they did.

Then TV replays came along. They’re still relatively modern but it increased the pressure on referees because then the audience could see what the referee could not.

And now technology has advanced to such an extent that replays are cut frame-by-frame – superhuman capabilities, essentially. What chance could a human possibly stand against that? Technology is superior to the capabilities of the human and yet the bureaucrats refuse to use it to the referee’s advantage. Instead, it has become a something to castigate and crucify the referee with.

How cruel is it to not allow the referee, the adjudicator, to right his mistakes? Referees make mistakes not because they want to; it is simply beyond their capabilities. Given the choice, any referee would love to be able to pause, reflect, and make the right call.

Not only are the bureaucrats refusing to allow the official such recourse, they are deliberately placing them in the line of fire. We often hear the line “Referees are human; we can’t expect them to be perfect” trotted out.

Well help them get close to perfect! The technology is there, the method is there, the support is there; all that is missing is the will at the bureaucratic level to make this happen.

I feel sorry for referees. Cakir must have known when he eventually saw the challenge again on TV, or even later during the game itself, that he had made a catastrophic error.

Even with his immense experience having refereed 12 Istanbul derbies – as intimidating as it gets – he must have heard the cacophony of noise inside Old Trafford. He must have felt terrible for having spoilt a clash of two giants that up till then was poised on a knife-edge.

But it isn’t his fault really. Cakir simply made a decision based on what he saw, in real-time. He did not have the benefit of consulting a video monitor, to review and reflect before making such a momentous decision, when he could, and perhaps, should have.

The failure of bureaucracy to keep up with the times is causing injustice after injustice, time and time again and the resultant outrage is absolutely justifiable; just don’t shoot the man (caught) in the middle.

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