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Seeing red over the refs


by NANCY ARMOUR

Seeing red over the refs

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JOHANNESBURG – Brazil playmaker Kaka wasn’t even looking at Kader Keita when the Ivory Coast player made the tiniest measure of contact with one of the most mild-mannered guys in the game. That didn’t stop Keita from collapsing to the ground, writhing and howling as if mortally wounded.It was, at the very most, a foul. But by giving Kaka his second yellow of the night and, with it, an automatic ejection, the referee touched off a new round of criticism. Between the “We Wuz Robbed” goal that wasn’t, the blatant handballs, or the over-the-top acting jobs, it’s enough to make anyone wonder what the refs at the World Cup are watching.As far as FIFA is concerned, they’re watching just fine.“We are very, very satisfied with the performance of the referees,” said Jose-Marcia Garcia-Aranda, head of refereeing for the sport’s governing body.That’s one person, at least.Questionable decisions are bound to happen in a sport that depends on the human eye to correct wrongs. It’s part of the game’s charm, and it gives fans endless ammunition for arguments over a pint or two – good-naturedly, of course.The gaffes at this tournament have been so obvious, however, and have had enough of an impact on games that Monday’s media briefing with Garcia-Aranda and the referees was an attention-grabber. Never mind that no one would comment on specific calls. Or that France’s Stephane Lannoy, who red-carded Kaka, and Mali’s Koman Coulibaly, who waved off what would have been a game-winner for the Americans against Slovenia, were “travelling” and unable to attend.Consistent“In my opinion, the decision-making here has been pretty consistent and pretty accurate,” said Howard Webb, one of the most respected refs in the game and a favourite to work the World Cup title game after officiating the Champions League final.Try telling that to the folks watching.Especially if they saw Kaka being sent off Sunday night. Hardly one of the game’s troublemakers, he’s a gentle sort who hasn’t had a red card in at least seven years. Never in a Brazil uniform.“I’m not going to talk about the ejection,” Kaka said after the game. “The images tell it all.”Keita and Kaka both appeared to have their eyes on the ball when they collided. Kaka does raise his right elbow slightly, but it appeared to be more defensive than thuggish. And it certainly wasn’t enough to merit Keita’s Oscar-worthy histrionics. Keita buried his face in his hands as if trying to keep his eyeball from falling out, crumpled to the ground and rolled around in agony for several minutes while his teammates cried foul.Yet when play resumed, there was Keita, looking none the worse.FIFA wasn’t biting when asked about it Monday – good thing, because there was a similar incident a few hours later in the Switzerland-Chile game.Switzerland played a man down after midfielder Valon Behrami was sent off in the 31st minute with a straight red card, getting tangled up with not one, but two Chilean players. Never mind that the second Chilean appeared to be going down in agony before contact was even made.“The red card was not even a yellow card,” Swiss coach Otto Hitzfeld blustered after the 1-0 defeat, accusing Chile’s players of putting on “quite a performance”.Wave of outrageBrazil’s Luis Fabiano didn’t even bother trying to deny he’d handled the ball on the way to his second goal Sunday night.  Even six-year-olds know goalkeepers are the only players who can use their hands, yet Lannoy was laughing when he appeared to ask the player about the incident afterwards.In the United States game, Coulibaly’s whistle not only nullified Maurice Edu’s goal, it penalised the Americans and prompted a wave of outrage. Several days later, the American players were still getting text messages and emails about it from folks back home.“It’s really heartening to see how much people care,” said midfielder Landon Donovan.Part of the problem, particularly for US fans, is that football refs aren’t required to – and rarely do – explain their decisions. If there’s a bad call in the NBA, NFL or Major League Baseball, someone will weigh in within a few hours – even if it’s just to say it’s being examined.FIFA? Not so much.“The duty of the referees is not to explain their decision . . . [but to] try to do their best on the field of play,” Garcia-Aranda said. “[Otherwise] they are not focused on the game, they are focused on the media.”While some refs said they wouldn’t mind explaining themselves and can even see the merit of it, don’t expect it to happen anytime soon. Ditto for other measures that could bring a little more transparency to questionable calls.Video replay isn’t an option so long as Sepp Blatter is FIFA president, and he’s all but certain to be re-elected to a fourth four-year term next year. (AP)

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