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Editor's Blog

A Dangerous Precedent Was Set

We see it week in and week out in football. Whether it’s the PSL, the Champions League or a World Cup, a big decision goes against someone and the whole team bears down on the ref to tell him that he’s got it wrong.

This weekend we saw Bafana captain, Itumeleng Khune, charge over to the linesman, his teammates in tow, in an attempt to persuade him that Josue Balamandji’s equaliser for the Central African Republic shouldn’t stand. Khune & Co were successful, the goal was disallowed and Gordon Igesund’s men went on to secure a 2-0 victory, keeping their World Cup dreams alive. 


Watching the replay, the Bafana players were spot on, it was a blatant handball, there’s no two ways about it. However, for the linesman and referee to change their decision purely because of ‘player pressure’ is unacceptable and sets a dangerous precedent.


Players whether they are right or wrong should not be able to overturn any decision made by a referee. Players from around Africa will have watched how a referee and a linesman wilted under pressure from Bafana players and were bullied into changing their minds. Millions of kids who play football will have watched Bafana argue their way out of a decision, and will no doubt try the same this weekend at their youth football games.


Don’t get me wrong, refs can refer to their assistants, they can take time to make their decision, but once it’s made it’s made. They should never go back on a decision. The authority is theirs and it should stay that way.


In the post-match press conference, Khune defended the team, stating that it was the right thing to do. He said, “Behaving the way we did was right for the team. It was a clear handball, but with the way it was so crowded in the box, the referee didn’t see anything, even the linesman, we pressurised him. He was confused, he didn’t know what to tell the referee. At the end of the day it was a handball.”


As captain of the side, yes, Khune has the right to remonstrate with the ref. It should be his job, and his job alone. Nonetheless, if an official has given a goal, it needs to stand, you can’t afford to show weakness and give in to players.


Look, my team (England) were punished by the most famous handball of all time. It’s June 1986, Steve Hodge’s botched clearance sends Diego Maradona through on Peter Shilton’s goal, he jumps with Shilton and punches the ball into the back of the net. The Three Lions went on to lose that game 2-1 and their dreams of World Cup victory were dashed.


The England players, especially Shilton, were understandably angry. They argued with the referee at length, even after the final whistle, but he had given it, that was that. Decision made.


It should have been that way on Saturday. Until Sepp Blatter finally understands that the game is in need of video replays, then the referee’s decision is final, and must always be final. Players and fans need to understand that.


Yes, if he makes a mistake, then it certainly sucks for the team on the receiving end of it. However, it’s a mistake they must live with. He’s only human.


The decision to disallow the goal was correct, it was a handball and Balamandji was in the wrong. Still, how many of you can say that you were certain it was handball when you first saw it? I certainly couldn’t.


Again, I say that this referee has set a dangerous precedent. Don’t be surprised to see players in Africa now pushing the referee just a little bit more. Don’t be surprised to see 11 men crowding round an official in an attempt to pressurise him into a decision each time a goal is scored in a crowded 18-yard area.


Yes, this time around there was no real consequence because it was a decision for South Africa, in South Africa. But what if this had happened in the last minute of a World Cup qualifier in the Central African Republic. What would have happened if thousands of emotional fans watched as their team were given a goal, only to then have it denied because the opposition team threw their toys? And what happens when thousands of angry fans storm the pitch because a weak referee caved in to some remonstrating players? The consequences could be devastating. 


Either Fifa changes the laws to allow for TV reviews to help referees, or Fifa must demand that referees man up, and stick with their original decisions. The day players are allowed to make calls is the day football dies a little bit. 


Joe Crann

Soccer-Laduma journalist


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