Euro 2020 Special

Officiating Under the Spotlight: Professional Sport Let Down by Incompetent Officials

It was a bad weekend for the use of VAR in the Premier League with the PGMOL (Professional Game Match Officials Limited) forced to contact both Arsenal and Brighton and admit that there had been significant errors in their matches by match officials.

However, to prove that football is not the only sport where such mistakes happen, the Women’s T20I World Cup match between India and Pakistan featured a seven ball over with match officials failing to spot that an extra ball had been bowled.

Given how much is at stake in professional sport, are teams being let down by the incompetence of those in charge of matches?


Premier League


Arsenal, the Premier League leaders, were leading Brentford at home in the 74th minute when the visitors got a free kick on the left.

Ivan Toney scored the equaliser for Brentford, but the VAR official, Lee Mason, spent three minutes checking whether Ethan Pinnock had blocked off Gabriel before allowing the goal to stand.

However, Mason neglected to use the system’s lines to determine whether Christian Norgaard was offside later in the same move. Had he done so, then the Dane would have been flagged for offside.

It was later explained that Mason had just forgot and it was a human error.


Meanwhile, in their match with Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park, Brighton thought they had taken the lead when Pervis Estupinan scored, only for the Ecuadorean to be flagged offside.

However, it then transpired that the offside line had been drawn from James Tomkins and not fellow defender Marc Guehi, who was standing behind him. Had it been drawn correctly, then the goal would have stood.

Again, it was attributed to human error by John Brooks, the VAR official for that game.


Women’s World Cup

Pakistan were bowling their seventh over of their opening World Cup match with India with veteran spinner Nida Dar with the ball in hand.

 However, the on-field umpires got confused midway through the over and thought that Dar’s fourth delivery was in fact her third.

As a result, seven balls were bowled, the last of which Jemimah Rodrigues struck for four.


Does it matter?

Whilst some may argue that errors are part and parcel of sport, in all three cases the mistakes could have serious consequences for the teams involved.

The dropped point at home to Brentford means that Arsenal’s lead at the top of the table has been cut to three points and, if they end up missing out on their first title in 19 years, their fans may look back on this as a defining moment.

Meanwhile, Brighton are chasing European football for the first time in their history, and will be hoping that the two points dropped does not prove costly in the end.

It should also be remembered that there is significant prize money at stake depending on where a team finishes in the table, so these errors potentially come with a financial cost.

Meanwhile, those four runs could have cost Pakistan victory against India, and with it, the chance of qualification for the knock-out stages of the tournament. Only two teams from each group qualify, so the ramifications for Pakistan’s hopes are potentially serious.


What has happened?

At least the PGMOL has realised that they must be seen to be doing something. The new head of the organisation has convened an emergency meeting of all the professional referees this week and all are expected to attend except those excused because they are on European duty.

Webb is expected to use the occasion to discuss the mistakes that occurred during the weekend and to reiterate the message that there can be no repeat if the system is to retain the trust of players, clubs, and supporters.

So far, there has been no similar reaction from World Cup authorities.


Competence required

The least that sports fans are entitled to expect is a basic level of competence from those tasked with officiating matches.

Whilst a certain latitude may have been granted in the days when match officials were amateurs, those days are largely gone, and they are now mainly full-time professionals and this is their only job.

In most other professions, those displaying such ineptitude would pay for it with their jobs. If they are not to suffer such a fate, then a serious and protracted course of re-training is required.




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