FIFA referee debates Coulibaly and USA
Koman Coulibaly and Michael BradleyPhoto: AP/Luca Bruno
World Cup referee Koman Coulibaly suspect decision to disallow a would be winning goal in the June 18 USA Slovenia match highlights officiating issues that shade the integrity of FIFA tournament. In the modern game, officiating is under intense scrutiny by millions through instant replay, HD TV, and real time viewing. To date, FIFA has avoided reliance on digital technology, but the increasingly aware public is skeptical of odd referee decisions and how they can occur and stand in the world biggest sporting event.
In the USA Slovenia 2 2 tie, the USA (Group C) were denied a seemingly legal winning goal by Mali referee Coulibaly, who called a foul. had come back from a two goal deficit to equalize in the second half with goals by Landon Donovan and Michael Bradley. In the 85th minute, Maurice Edu, onside, put the ball in the back of the net but Coulibaly disallowed, pointed to a spot and called a free kick out. players and no foul is apparent on replay, FIFA provided no explanation of the mysterious result changing decision. Which two teams advance from Group C Slovenia, USA, England and Algeria will be decided Wednesday, June 23. Belgian referee Frank Bleeckere of Belgium will officate the USA Algeria final group play match.
Monday, June 21, FIFA announced the referees for the final round of group play this week and although Coulibaly was not on the list, the Referee Committee did not address the controversy. Coulibaly continued to perform after the controversial Group C result and was the fourth official in the June 20 Italy New Zealand match.
For insight into the particulars of the USA Slovenia incident and the challenges FIFA and referees face in the digital age, I spoke with Angelo Bratsis, ex FIFA referee for the United States and CONCACAF for 12 years. Bratsis first explained how media and technology have changed public perception and understanding of the game and officiating and then answered some very direct questions about the incident and FIFA policies.
LE: What are the biggest challenges referees face these days?
Michael Bradley and referee Koman CoulibalyPhoto: AP/Hassan Ammar
Bratsis: Physical demands are the first challenge to referees. The second one is the ability to cope with pressure at the highest possible level this is a big one. And then there adapting to the course and evolution of the game. They have to adapt to the challenges of a referee limited angle of view of a particular incident and the difference between that and the television 20+plus cameras. There a great deal of difference between what the referee sees and what the camera sees it all about angles. Referees have tremendous challenges in the modern game really, really. Referees are constantly scrutinized though different cameras at different angles that capture everything. The referee is limited, his view and angles are limited and he got a split second to make that decision that people analyze from different angles after the fact. Every little foul is so scrutinized so many times and they look at it from every angle, slow motion, frame by frame.
LE: In the USA Slovenia game, the players asked Coulibaly what the foul was and he wouldn answer them. What is the sideline referee responsibility if there is a controversy?
Bratsis: The referee in the middle is the one that makes the decisions. He was convinced, he blew the whistle and pointed free kick going out.
LE: But no one else saw a foul, shouldn the referee be responsible to cite the foul he called?
Bratsis: That something that only the Referee Committee and his inspector will know after his debriefing. What did you see, what did you call? Put it on your report. team were protesting. Why were they protesting the decision? What happened? What did you see, what did you call? He will have to say I made the decision because I saw x, y, and z do x, y, and z and I blew the whistle and ordered a free kick.
LE: But to avoid the consequences of a serious officiating error and if FIFA doesn want to use digital technology, isn there reasonable argument that there could be a role for ARs here? A case for them to consult with the referee in a critical game situation?
Bratsis: The only time you consult the ARs is if you yourself haven seen the incident and you want additional information. That the only time the referee is obligated to go and ask and obtain as much information as possible before the game is restarted. ARs indicate when an offense of some sort occurs, referees are the ones that make the decisions. Linesmen provide information, referees make the decision.
LE: Post game, will the sideline referees be questioned about his decision too? What they saw?
Bratsis: I would think so if it comes to that. But remember, it a modern game now, they have a communication device in their ears, they constantly talking.
Michael Bradley celebrates his equalizing goalPhoto: AP/Luca Bruno
LE: Do you think the UEFA experiment using five referees, including two by the nets, would assist in an incident like this?
Bratsis: FIFA didn want to try it in this World Cup. I don know. Looking at the tape, the referee was in very close proximity, how close would have been the fifth official behind the goal? Would it have been closer?
LE: It would be from a different angle.
Bratsis: I don know what the infraction was and I don think anybody knows what the infraction was to be honest with you. The referee is not obligated to justify his decisions to the players.
LE: Referees talk to players in league play all the time as part of player management.
Bratsis: That league play where the referees know the players on a first name basis, it totally different because you see them three, four, five, six times a year. League play is completely different than international competition. Referees in international competition aren obligated to speak to anybody. They asked to be polite, courteous and be approachable, but if a player asks you, the hell was that for, what was that call, referee? he doesn have to answer it.
LE: To the millions of people watching, even if it was just a bad call, isn this kind of controversy a risk to the credibility of the tournament?