I originally wrote this article back in 2009. I have a feeling that the issue is about to become a topical one in Scottish football.
Yesterday afternoon’s Confederations Cup match between Brazil and Egypt was quite a spectacle. After 90 minutes the score was level at 3-3, with the African underdogs having recovered from a 3-1 deficit against the Samba stars.
But the game will be long remembered for what happened next.
As the clock ticked into added time, Brazil were awarded a corner. The ball was crossed into the area and Brazilian captain Lucio shot for goal. But the ball was blocked on the line by the arm of defender Ahmed El Mohamady, who immediately fell to the ground clutching his face – a clear attempt to con the referee.
And for a moment it appeared that his con trick had worked as English referee Howard Webb pointed for another corner rather than a penalty. A crowd scene ensued around the apparently stricken defender, with his team mates calling for treatment, while the Brazilians appealed for a penalty.
Webb then appeared to communicate with someone via his mic and earpiece, before finally making the correct decision by awarding the penalty and sending off the mendacious Egyptian. It appeared that his decision was made after consultation with an official who had viewed the incident on TV.
The crucial question is: was the referee correct to make a decision based on tv evidence?
Egypt complained after the match that a decision had been taken that was outwith the laws of the game. As Egypt coach Gharib Chawki correctly stated “As far as I am aware there is no rule allowing video evidence.”
The rules are indeed clear. The referee is in sole charge of the match and must make decisions based on what he and his assistants see. There is no TV replay system in football. Perhaps there should be, as it works successfully in many other sports? Indeed, but that’s an argument for another day.
Clearly a just outcome was arrived at: Brazil got their penalty and the offender was dismissed. However, the rules of the game, which the referee must of course uphold, say that the decision was made incorrectly.
So do two wrongs make a right? Should a decision made in direct contravention of the laws of the game stand because the ends justified the means? Should cheats really never prosper?
It feels like one of those courtroom dramas where everyone knows that the accused is guilty, but his clever defence lawyer then argues successfully that crucial evidence should be ruled inadmissible on a technicality. Is justice truly served in this instance?
What did FIFA, football’s governing body, make of the Egyptian complaint? Well, true to form for bureaucracies worldwide they fudged the matter!
A FIFA spokesman said: “A thorough analysis revealed that the decision in question was achieved through teamwork between the match referee and his assistant referee … who confirmed the offence to the referee from his clear viewing angle.”
Now that, quite frankly, is nonsense. The linesman (I refuse to use the newfangled term assistant referee) was in no position to see the incident. He was on the opposite side of the pitch with at least two players blocking his view of the incident.
No, this is a cop out from FIFA. The referee was clearly advised by someone watching on TV. The BBC commentators at the time thought so, and players have been confirmed this. “The referee didn’t see the penalty and the linesman didn’t see it either. It looks like the fourth official told him over the radio,” said striker Luis Fabiano.
To continue the legal analogy: a just decision was made on evidence that was inadmissible. But does that render the eventual verdict unsafe?
What do you think?