We are in an age of sports where instant replay is much more than just what highlight reels are made of. Many major sports have started using video replay and using it to make sure that the outcome of games isn’t left to chance. With that said, I have enjoyed the fluidity of football and how, in its pure form, it’s two halves of 45 minutes. Baseball games normally last more than three hours, but many times they’re longer than that. Hockey has two intermissions and constant video replay. NFL games last over three hours and have a million stoppages in play, even without the use of replay. In the last year, we’ve seen a tennis match last for two days. Although there is more fluidity in tennis, there is still no time limit to how long a match can last. My point here, however, is that, when used properly, video replay is something that will only help the sport of football. And, while you may think I’m talking about video replay for goal-line technology or for other in-match decisions, I’m actually talking about the use of video replay in association with post-match decisions. Now, I know that the FA uses video replay to review matches when dealing out suspensions (see: Rio Ferdinand or Wayne Rooney), but I’ve long felt that the FA is too antiquated with their rules and regulations. I have many opinions on many rules that I feel need revision, but the purpose of this post is to address the use of video replay when addressing player suspensions.
When pitches are 100 yards long and about 70 yards wide, three officials can’t see everything, even when they are looking right at it. Today we saw the disparity in UEFA rules and FA rules (Gattuso ban vs. SAF ban), so the need for revision seems pretty apparent to me, especially in the arena of video replay. When there are a million different things happening on the football pitch at once – on and off the ball – the FA should understand that using the power to punish culpable culprits isn’t taking the power out of the referees’ hands, it’s distributing power in order to uphold the honor of the game of football. We know that the FA has an overwhelming tendency to favor certain teams, managers, and players – and that’s for another article – but, their rules basically put all the responsibility on the referees, which I don’t think is fair. I have been calling for goal-line technology or end-line referees with the masses for years, and by not allowing it, governing bodies (FA included) are essentially wiping their hands clean of punishing players, coaches, or teams for things that the refs may not have seen.
I’m not condoning any player or action, this includes Manchester United players. Wayne Rooney’s elbow on James McCarthy was malicious and petty. Regardless of what has happened (or not happened) to players who have done similar things (Hello, Steven Gerrard), Rooney should have been suspended. There is absolutely no room in this beautiful game for things like that. I feel like footballers, and the game of football, should, and is, held to a higher standard than other sports. So, it should be fair all the way around. In Rooney’s circumstance, the FA ruled that the referee dealt with it on the field, which isn’t true. Had the ref seen the blatant elbow, Rooney would have seen red. Same thing happened with Rio a few years ago, except the FA knew the ref hadn’t dealt with it on the field and suspended Ferdinand. Now, on the flip side, I don’t think that Carragher’s tackle on Nani was dealt with properly. Game speed is different than replay speed, and on second look, the malicious tackle deserved more than a yellow card. Nani, as we all know, is prone to overreaction and I feel like that impeded the overall judgment of the referee. That’s not fair to Nani, or any other player for that matter. In the same game, we saw Suarez reach out and pull Rafa’s hair. He also escaped reprimand.
This is where the FA needs to step in and deal out appropriate punishment. A devil’s advocate would argue that this would open the floodgates when dealing with a million incidences on the pitch. My counter would be that in adopting a new policy, there would be stipulations about teams’ request for reviews or their appeals. All the small print would work itself out, but the bottom line is that in order to keep the beautiful game beautiful, the FA should exercise the right, and power, to review things that the ref may or may not have seen. It’ll prevent off-the-ball elbows or cheap shots. It’ll make sure that calls made on the field are correct. It’ll make sure that the players understand that just because they escaped a match without a booking, doesn’t mean they won’t get one when they get home.