Fixing Football Refereeing 

The beautiful game goes by many names.

Some call it soccer (fine only Americans call it soccer), some call it fútbol (fine only hipster Americans call it fútbol) and the rest of us call it football.

Regardless of what you call it, most of us can’t seem to get enough of it. Football’s popularity is at an all-time high and is growing even more. A billion people watched the World Cup final in 2014. Let me say that again, ONE BILLION PEOPLE WATCHED THE WORLD CUP FINAL. Despite the fact that it’s the world’s most popular sports, it’s also one of the world’s most frustrating sports because of it’s almost medieval rules.

Every time people try to implement new rules or protocols which would only help the quality of play it’s quickly shot down.


Because football has been played the same way for nearly half a century, so we should keep playing it the same way till the end of humanity and civilization as we know it. If we attempt to modernize the game, it will lead to a breakup of the free flow style of play that is football’s greatest advantage over other sports.

We could do that.


We could actually utilize modern technology and not be stuck in 1963.

Think about goal-line technology for instance. It took England getting a goal disallowed against Germany in the World Cup in 2010 to actually get the conversation going. Even though the same thing happened in 1966 ironically again with England and Germany.

History is littered with examples of bad goal line calls. As a United fan this will forever be imprinted in my memory:


Yet still we didn’t do anything about it.

In 50 years our future offspring will not be able to fathom how the Neanderthals of yesteryear would resist something which seems so painstakingly obvious. The sad thing is that they would be right to wonder such a thing.

So I am going to outline a few things that I think need to change to improve the quality of play across all football competitions.

For the love of everything that is pure and decent in this world can we please use offside technology?:

Asking a single human being to notice when a ball leaves the passer’s foot and simultaneously be able to locate the location of the intended target of the pass with respect to the last defender is not fair and is borderline impossible to do accurately consistently. So we are really doing a disservice to the quality of refereeing by forcing them to make such quick snap judgments.

So why not install some offside technology?

Yes this technology actually exists and thanks to Mike L Goodman, the best football writer I’ve ever read, for telling me about it:

So after doing a little digging, I found a bunch of examples of different ways in which FIFA and their billions could go about investing in this tech. But, for the sake of length, I am just going to show you guys the best one. It’s worth mentioning that these aren’t my ideas.


Let me just summarize this method for you guys in the simplest way possible.

There are three high-speed, and infrared cameras that are installed around the pitch in order to track player positioning. Then thanks to goal line technology the ball has its own sensor. This will give you three respective data layers which show the field, the players on each different team and the ball.

With all these data layers you can now configure the computer to recognize a multitude of different offside scenarios just like in FIFA16 for instance.

At this point, you might be thinking to yourself this feels very complicated, there is no way this could work in the real world.

Well, you’re mistaken my friend. This technology is already being used in American football (the fake football):

Even if it wasn’t, we’ve managed to put a man on the moon, develop weapons of mass destruction and cure diseases so I am fairly certain we can figure a way to solve offsides.

But at this point, you might be saying to yourself “Zein although this makes a ton of sense isn’t the offside rule more complicated now won’t the computers be unable to judge what an active player and a passive player is? “. That is true my imaginary friend, but that is where the linesmen come in. Now that he is freed from making impossible snap judgment calls, he can now focus on making better calls throughout the game.

There is no real reason why anyone should oppose this if you think about. This does not stop the game in any way and is congruent with the free flowing style of that has become synonymous with the sport.

Referees on the field should not be allowed to give red cards:

One of the worst thing’s that can happen to you on a football field is getting a man sent off and rightfully, so you’re at a huge disadvantage.

So really we should be as close to 100% as possible when someone is actually being sent off. But sadly that almost never happens. This is because referees are being forced to make decisions in real time thereby making it very difficult for him to make an accurate call. Just think about all the different events which factor into the referee’s decision making.:

  • Did the player have his studs up or down?
  • Is the player being tackled exaggerating the contact?
  • Did he get the ball or the man first?
  • Was the force that he jumped with too great?

All of this feels fairly confusing in real time. But the moment you slow it down on instant replay the decision becomes so obvious. All it takes is 1 or 2 replays max, and everyone at home knows what the correct call is. So if everyone at home knows what happens, can you imagine a referee making those calls.

With that being said why not have a fifth referee watching the game in a studio where he can play the instant replay before people at the home can? All he needs is 5 to 10 seconds max, and he will know what the right call is, and that’s barely any time.

If you think about it, after a heavy challenge the game stops for at least 5 seconds where we see the players on the ground writhing in pain, then we cut to the instant replay that takes 5 more seconds, then the referee talks to the linesmen which takes time, then he makes the call, then he spends 10 seconds arguing with everyone and finally the player being sent off walks away.

This a prime example of what I am talking about:

(this still hurts btw)

So the foul happens 3 seconds into the video, the referee makes his decision 49 seconds into the video during which time we’ve managed to watch two instant replays at home, and it’s not until a minute and fifty-seven seconds till Nani actually leaves the pitch and the game goes on.

Although this might be an extreme example, it shows you that when it comes to this big decision, there is plenty of time for another referee to watch multiple replays and get the right call almost all the time. This will therefore not take away from the free-flowing aspect of the game that FIFA seems to value so much.

Another benefit of this method would be that there is no way the referee can be affected by the fans in the stands because he wouldn’t be anywhere near them. Which is huge, if you’ve ever been to a game every single time a challenge happens the fans go nuts, which has to at least affect the rationale behind the decision.

Anyways, this is what I would do if I was president of FIFA and I hope at least a derivative of the ideas I presented would actually be implemented. And if they don’t happen it should because they are bad ideas and not that we’ve always played the game a certain way so we always should.

Even that level of reasoning is heavily flawed because football has gone through some major changes over the years. The offside rule was first introduced 1863, and then revamped in 1925 and further altered in 1990. More importantly, some of you young bloods may not know this but until 1981, all football leagues only awarded two points for a win. So it’s not like football has never been changed, and hopefully, it will never stop changing.