You are here: HomeNews2017 09 14Article 580720

Opinions of Thursday, 14 September 2017

Columnist: Kwabena Addai-Poku

The tangle of football officiating: A case of referee Lamptey and FIFA’s response

Price of a Referee

The cost of quality refereeing is certainly a way to maintain order and fairness in a game. Somewhat, games such as boxing, football, basketball, etc. have suffered some form of unbalanced decisions which have gone on to determine outcomes. Football is mostly called the beautiful game due to its popularity and passionate following across the world. However, many followers have had their hearts disoriented simply because of an individual’s failure to mitigate the irregularities of players’ actions and inactions on the pitch.

Modern referees in football games for that matter serve as arbitrators or judges on the pitch, to regularize the happenings and behavior of the main actors (footballers), coaches and other staffs in the dugout, as a result of the laws and discretionary powers vested in by the associations that appoint them. Undoubtedly, such powers have been abused on countless occasions, even amongst those who profess to have the requisite knowhow within the boundaries of developed and developing countries.

Contentions of some Past Games

High profile tournaments, league and cup matches such as FIFA World Cup, European Championship, Africa Cup of Nations, Uefa Champions League, English Premier League, Italian Serie A, Spanish La Liga, French Ligue 1, German Bundesliga and a host of other competitions have been marred with refereeing decisions which are not in conformity with the encoded laws and statutes of Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). In the past, both neutral and passionate followers have lost the spirit of unspeakable excitement that football brings. In effect, tears have rolled down the faces of many fans whilst others have found it very uneasy to deal with by describing it as a game of ‘hell’.

In 2002, one of the two host nations, South Korea benefited from disgraceful errors of the Egyptian referee Gamal Ghandour in a no other competition than a FIFA World Cup match. Spain scored some two brilliant goals and were all ruled against. Retrospectively, one could see and attest to the entire event as having planned to boost the host and for that matter attracting the support base of a country that was not too popular in terms of world football.

On Monday, 26 June 2006, in a world cup knockout match between Italy and Australia, a contentious decision was made in Fritz-Walter-Stadion in Kaiserslautern, Germany when the Spanish referee Luis Medina Cantalejo awarded a stoppage time penalty for the Azzuris. On hindsight, it appeared to be a dive from the Italian left back Fabio Grosso. Consequently, Francesco Totti converted brilliantly to end Australia’s fairytale in their first ever world cup appearance. Ironically, the then FIFA president Joseph Blatter came out to apologize, but the match score was neither altered nor a replay proposed. In spite of the referee’s error of judgment, Medina went ahead to become the fourth referee of the event’s grand finale between Italy and France without any ban.

On May 6 2009, the Norwegian referee Tom Henning Ovrebo made a mess out of himself by some incorrect decisions between Chelsea and Barcelona in a Uefa Champions league’s second leg of a semi-final match. Realistically, Ovrebo’s decisions in the said game were not a plot against any of the sides but defied the laws and discretionary power of refereeing as inferior to what ardent observers think they ought to be.

Another palpable refereeing error was in mid-November 2009, when the Republic of Ireland was also robbed of their world cup hopes, due to the Swedish referee Martin Hansson’s handling of the second leg tie against France. Ireland had lost the first leg in Dublin by a goal to nil, but managed to pull parity on aggregate by the end of 90 minutes in Paris, only to push the match to extra time and potential penalty shoot-out. Alas, inside the 100th minute mark, the legend and all-time scorer for France, Thierry Henry, prodded a touchline-bound ball with his hand, only to be headed in by defender William Gallas. Eventually, that goal denied Ireland their first world cup participation since 2002 but referee Hansson ended up as one of the officials in the 2010 FIFA world cup. Later, there were some reports that FIFA had agreed to compensate the Irish Football Association of Ireland (FAI) with respect to the bizarre circumstance.

FIFA’s Drastic Steps

Having highlighted some few blunders and the detriments that referees have caused to football matches, it could be pointed out as to buttress the old axiom which suggests that to err is human. Nonetheless, the powers that be; associations, committees, commissions etc. who make footballing decisions have all let go some of these erroneous impressions about refereeing and its disciplinary function within the game. By and large, some disciplinary measures have been meted out to referees and players retrospectively without changing outcomes or to a larger extent ensuring a replay of a game. This shows refereeing has improved by way of punishing human errors. For instance, in the 2010 world cup, FIFA intensified their actions on refereeing errors by giving some referees their marching orders while the tournament had not ended. Great names in officiating such as Roberto Rosetti (Italy), Massimo Busacca (Switzerland), Koman Coulibaly (Mali) and a host of others were all affected.

Referee Lamptey’s sorry State

Drawing a linkage on a recent life time ban of the Ghanaian referee Joseph Lamptey, it has to be emphasized that his outright ban from the game is inconsiderate and harsh on his personality and African football as a whole. FIFA on its website dated 20th March, 2017 issued the release;
“The FIFA Disciplinary Committee has decided to ban the Ghanaian match official Joseph Odartei Lamptey from taking part in any kind of football-related activity (administrative, sports or any other) at national and international level for life.

The official was found guilty of breaching art. 69 par. 1 (unlawfully influencing match results) of the FIFA Disciplinary Code during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualifying match between South Africa and Senegal on 12 November 2016….”

In light of this, Lamptey’s integrity has been tarnished by something that continues to happen in association football recurringly. The questions that should first be answered are;

1. Did Lamptey’s ‘genuine’ error contribute to influencing match result between South Africa and Senegal?

2. What did Lamptey as an individual stand to benefit from, if neither of the two nations involved was faulted, as having connived with him to project an outcome to the satisfaction of one’s interest?

Common sense tells me that it always takes two to tango. Hence, for a game to be considered as haven been influenced unlawfully, then one of the two parties within a football contest must have some form of consensus with the individual (referee) who holds the major key to arbitrary decisions in a given match. In this case, neither South Africa nor Senegal was mentioned as having connived with the referee. Judging from this point, it makes the entire issue of a lifetime ban, strange and unfair to the Ghanaian official.

I therefore urge the Ghana football Association to support referee Joseph Odartei Lamptey simply because he is not from a different planet. Moreover, his error will not be the last to occur; neither will it be the bitterest one in football history. I am also of the opinion that he may deserve some form of suspension that runs within a given period, but not a lifetime dissociation from football activities.

The Dealings of future officiating errors

I guess if Lamptey’s ban continues to be upheld in the days ahead in spite of the numerous appeals, then officiating in football has to be thought through with something which goes beyond human perspective and reasoning. I would also side with FIFA’s position on his ban if it could prove with more detailed points which may be considered as covert from the public ears and eyes. On that side of the coin, setting a scapegoat of his actions to the deterrence of all officiating errors would be welcomed across the length and breadth of every corner association football propagates its gospel in the world. Hence, I would assume that future errors of similar magnitude should be punishable in the same line, else football shadows itself in the light of its core principled banner; “My Game is Fair Play”.