It might be thought that Brazil’s politicians would have bigger problems to deal with, but a Bill in front of Congress seeks to regulate the country’s professional football referees; specifically, should the Bill become law, they will have to register themselves as supporters of a club. Subsequently, of course, they will be unable to take charge of games involving the team.
“In the World Cup,” says Captain Augusto, the politician behind the project, “a Brazilian referee does not take charge of a Brazil game. Why not, if they are professionals? No. It’s because it would not be fair to put someone in charge of a game involving their own team. It is not just about being honest. The process needs to be seen to be honest.”
Augusto claims that his measure is aimed at protecting referees. But any superficial attraction his World Cup comparison might have is soon undone. This registration idea may serve some purpose in a cup competition, when a game is an enclosed world; one team goes through, the other goes out. But in an extended league format, it merely opens up unlimited complications. The points gained in a league game have an effect not just on the two teams involved, but on all the other clubs in the league. Teams A and B are not just competing with each other, but with C, D, E, F and so on. Once a referee is ‘outed’ as a supporter of a certain team, it gives rise to plenty of conspiracy theories. A referee may well be accused of manufacturing a result in one game that benefits the league position of ‘his’ team.
Controversial decisions and refereeing mistakes will exist as long as football does. The gateway to chaos emerges as soon as the presumption of the referee’s impartiality ceases to exist.
The background to Captain Augusto’s Bill highlights the depth of the problem. He is a fan of Palmeiras. The club recently lost the final of the Sao Paulo state championship, beaten by historical rivals Corinthians after a penalty shoot out.
In the second leg, in front of their own fans, Palmeiras were awarded a penalty. The referee pointed to the spot. But after a long delay – the hold up lasted as long as 8 minutes – the decision was reversed and a corner was given.
No one doubts that this was the correct decision. The defender clearly played the ball. The controversy has kicked off about the method by which the decision was taken. Palmeiras allege that there was external interference – that someone who had seen the TV images informed the referee that his original decision – to give a penalty – was wrong. This is not an easy allegation to prove. But it would appear that Palmeiras are going all out to make their case. The local media are reporting that the club have engaged the services of Kroll, a huge multinational investigative agency – to help them prove that the award of a penalty, however unjust, should have stood.
The whole case seems to have come out of a Monty Python sketch. But it reveals the depths to which football can sink when Rule 18 is not observed. And Rule 18, of course, is unwritten – that the game should be played in the right spirit and that the referee’s decisions should be accepted.