What about bad refereeing makes soccer “human”?

[by JSC5]

Updated: see end of post

I really can’t agree more with my colleague’s suggestions for reforming soccer’s rules.

I just want to add a big picture critique of how people defend these rules in the first place. If you watched ESPN’s broadcast of the US-England game (or was it US-Slovenia?) way back in the group play, then you heard the half-time yacker’s half-assed defense of soccer’s rules after the ref made a particularly bad call. It’s an integral part of the game, he argued, it’s part of what makes soccer “human”, and it’s something that new fans just have to learn to accept.

That theme of celebrating human fallibility is actually pretty common among sports conservatives. Ask a die-hard defender of MLB’s rejection of video review, like my father, and he’ll tell you that there are valuable life lessons to be learned from the Little League maxim: “It’s not what actually happened that counts; it’s what the ref says happened.” Apparently having our childhood dreams crushed by adults’ shitty decisions better prepares us for having our adult dreams crushed by other adults’ even shittier decisions.

Maybe that’s true. Learning that life is tough actually *is* a worthwhile lesson. But that shouldn’t lead us to intentionally make life even more difficult than it already is! One of the great things about this moment in human history is our ability to use widely-available technology to ease our path through life. Would using video technology to make baseball umps and soccer refs a little more accurate make those sports less “human”? Only if you believe that things like roads, TV, wikipedia, and 3D movies also make us less human.

It’s time for sports conservatives to stop hiding behind nonsense arguments. It’s time for ref reform.

And don’t worry, Pop, I’m sure I’ll find plenty of other ways to crush my own children’s hopes and dreams.

* Update: Just so we’re clear, my father isn’t the only fan of human fallibility in sports. Here’s FIFA president Sepp Blatter as quoted today in the New York Times:

“We want to keep football as a game of the people with a human face, so we don’t want technology on the field of play because we want to maintain the spontaneity of football — played, administered and controlled by human beings.”

And driving home yesterday, I heard a US soccer-booster making a similar argument on NPR. These people are all over the place!

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1 Response to “What about bad refereeing makes soccer “human”?”


  1. 1 JSC7 June 28, 2010 at 10:58 pm

    Yeah, agree with this cien por ciento. I think people conflate two things when they make this argument, the human element of refereeing and the human element of arguing close calls. I agree that a big part of sports spectatorship is arguing calls that could have gone either way, and there are times when a ref has to make a really close call that could have gone either way, even with replay technology. That’s not going to end. What hopefully will end is the blown calls that are so obvious that no one in their right mind would call them anything but botched.


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This is a group blog. JSC5 currently writes from the US. JSC7 writes from behind the Great Firewall of China.

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