Swiss gives red card to video technology
Looking back at the football World Cup, retired Swiss referee Urs Meier goes against popular opinion by opposing the introduction of video replays.
Meier, who officiated at the 1998 and 2002 World Cups, tells swissinfo.ch why ball chip technology would be a better option.
The 51-year-old, who retired from refereeing in 2004, also explains what needs to be done to improve the quality of refereeing at international tournaments.
swissinfo.ch: What was your general impression of the 2010 World Cup?
Urs Meier: I think it was a very good World Cup because of the support of the fans. It was a World Cup with a lot of emotions, both inside South Africa and abroad.
The football – I expected more. We all expected more from the superstars. They had time to recover after the Champions League and championships, so I thought the quality would be at a high level, but that wasn’t the case. A lot of the games weren’t very good.
swissinfo.ch: Many people will remember this World Cup for the refereeing mistakes. Were there actually more mistakes than average?
U.M.: I think there were too many mistakes that influenced the results. Referees make mistakes, but making such big mistakes – giving or not giving a penalty or offside – at a World Cup isn’t good. If you give a yellow card that’s not a yellow card or a free kick that’s not a free kick, that doesn’t really matter, but wrong red cards or penalties really influence the game and there were too many of those.
swissinfo.ch: What was your reaction when you saw replays of Frank Lampard’s shot showing the ball half a metre over the line [see link]?
U.M.: My reaction was what I’ve been saying for a long time: it’s almost impossible for the referee and assistant to see in such a situation. With television it’s easy: you stop the picture and it’s clear that the ball is 40cm behind the line. But on the field, the assistant was 36 metres from the ball, the referee was 21 metres away and had a bad angle. In such cases we should discuss using a chip in the ball.
swissinfo.ch: After that, the debate about video technology exploded. Again. The vast majority of fans and journalists want it, but world and European football governing bodies Fifa and Uefa both rule it out [see link]. Do you agree with Fifa?
U.M.: Absolutely. It’s either a goal or not a goal – for that you don’t need video technology, for that you need a chip in the ball or a fifth or sixth man behind the goal.
However, a lot of people want video technology for other decisions – was it a penalty, red card, offside, handball? You rarely have black-and-white decisions. You need to see the intention, the speed, the distance; without these criteria it’s not possible to make a good decision in such a situation.
I’m in favour of giving referees some help. A chip in the ball would be the best solution for big tournaments. It’s really easy to install this technology.
swissinfo.ch: Apparently English referee Howard Webb received death threats following the final between Spain and the Netherlands. You know what it’s like to be heavily criticised. Is such criticism easy to ignore?
U.M.: Sometimes it’s difficult. If the death threats are targeted only at you, it’s one thing; when your family is involved, it’s another. But it’s not easy to deal with such threats. It takes time. Football is really emotional and you know that it takes just one really stupid person...
swissinfo.ch: Before the tournament, Swiss referee Massimo Busacca was considered a candidate for the final, but after sending off the South African keeper and awarding a penalty against the hosts in his first match, he was sent home. Do you think there was pressure from Fifa?
U.M.: I don’t know what happened behind the scenes as I was not in the referees’ group. There are a lot of things that can influence which referees are chosen. But I think all his decisions were correct in that game. The red card for the keeper followed Fifa’s and Uefa’s guidelines.
It’s really disappointing, not only for him but also for us, the Swiss Football Association, and for me as a mentor to Massimo Busacca. We worked really hard for this World Cup and we’re all disappointed.
swissinfo.ch: Some people think a few referees from smaller countries were out of their depth. Wouldn’t it be better to have a central core of professional referees?
U.M.: At the World Cup we need the best referees. But it’s not the case that the bigger countries have the better referees. Switzerland for example has had good referees at the World Cup for a long time. Smaller countries like Belgium and Denmark also have very good referees.
Officials from South America and Europe have the advantage of being able to referee the Champions League, so they are used to the speed and the pressure. Referees in other continents lack this experience.
We really need professional referees for the World Cup, but they can come from anywhere. For example there was a very good one from Uzbekistan. He had four excellent games.
swissinfo.ch: It’s not easy balancing diversity and quality.
U.M.: You have to help the other countries – and continents – to improve. You should take these referees – from Asia or Africa or wherever – for three or four months to Europe or South America, where they have to referee games in higher leagues and the Champions League.
These referees have to be able to show Fifa that they have the ability and experience for the World Cup. If you’ve never refereed a game like this, it’s very difficult. If you’ve never driven a Formula One car, your first race will be hard.
Thomas Stephens, swissinfo.ch
Urs Meier, a grocer by trade, was a referee from 1977-2004.
He earned his badge from football's world governing body, Fifa, in 1994 and worked at both the 1998 and 2002 World Cups.
Despite an illustrious career, Meier will probably go down in the history books as the man who invoked the wrath of the English.
His decision to disallow a headed goal by Sol Campbell in the closing minutes of England's Euro 2004 quarterfinal against host nation Portugal made him a scapegoat in the eyes of many irate England fans for their country's exit from the tournament.
Portugal went on to defeat England 6-5 on penalties. English fans weren’t happy and Meier needed police protection for a week.
Dodgy World Cup decisions?
French ref Stéphane Lannoy was criticised for failing to spot a handball before Brazil's second goal in their 3-1 win over Ivory Coast, and for sending off Kaka when opponent Kader Keita appeared to run into him.
Koman Couilbaly from Mali drew worldwide attention by disallowing a goal that would have given the United States a late lead against Slovenia, and infuriated US players by not explaining his decision. He earlier showed a yellow card when the ball struck Robbie Findley in the face.
Saudi Arabian ref Khalil Al Ghamdi handed a red card to Swiss midfielder Valon Behrami for brushing the cheek of Chile's Arturo Vidal, who was behind him, with his arm. Vidal put his hands to his face and fell to the ground. The Chilean goal also appeared offside.
Carlos Tevez was clearly offside when he headed in Argentina’s opening goal against Mexico. Despite Mexican protests, the goal stood, even though stadium replays showed it should have been ruled out.
The Tevez controversy came a day after a shot by England midfielder Frank Lampard bounced off the underside of the German crossbar and landed 50cm over the goal-line, but it was missed by both Uruguayan referee Jorge Larrionda and his assistant.
In the final, English ref Howard Webb showed Dutch midfielder Nigel de Jong only yellow for doing a kung fu kick and embedding his studs in Xabi Alonso’s chest – a clear red card.
In compliance with the JTI standards
More: SWI swissinfo.ch certified by the Journalism Trust Initiative
Contributions under this article have been turned off. You can find an overview of ongoing debates with our journalists here. Please join us!
If you want to start a conversation about a topic raised in this article or want to report factual errors, email us at email@example.com.