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Welcome to a multi-part series which will discuss the bigger topics which are occurring in the Premier League and football as a whole.

In this very first episode we will discuss the sharp decline of the quality of officiating in this season’s Premier League and steps that can be implemented to improve the standard of refereeing.

The bigger picture - Part 1 RefereesA poll carried out by BBC Sport earlier this month asked Premier League fans from around the globe whether they feel the standard of refereeing has declined since the previous season. The result of the poll saw 67.5% agree that Premier League referees are performing worse that last season, but why?

The standout issue which has been the cause of most controversial refereeing decisions over the last few years is the clarity of the rule book. Rules that are not clearly defined; but instead rely on individual judgement in a short period of time.

An example of a rule that has not yet been defined by the FA is contact inside the penalty area, a subject that was a major talking point earlier on this season. The fixture between Manchester United and Chelsea in October saw referee Phil Dowd refuse to award Chelsea a penalty after clear obstructions from United’s defenders. However, in the week previous we saw a penalty awarded by Michael Oliver against Stoke’s Ryan Shawcross for shirt-pulling inside the penalty area when there appeared to be very limited contact.

The bigger picture - Part 1 Referees

Former referee Howard Webb told Sky Sport’s Monday Night Football panel in November

“Football’s a contact sport and we allow contact. It’s trying to define what’s legal contact and what’s not legal contact. At the moment we’re in a consultation period… with a view to giving out some clear guidance with what we consider to be legal and illegal contact. Even when we give the guidelines out… there are going to be occasions when referees don’t see everything.”

Not only have certain rules not yet been clearly defined by the FA, which makes decision making inconsistent, but officials also have to detect simulation on a regular basis, making it even harder for them to give the correct decision.

With the Premier League being so fast-paced, officials need to be able to keep up with the play and get into positions where they can see any potential incidents that may occur, particularly ‘diving’. Simulation (diving) is becoming more and more apparent in the Premier League but that does not mean that every player who dives is cheating, or trying to gain an advantage. Gary Neville made a very valid point a few seasons ago that just because players go down with little or no contact, they are not always cheating but are instead anticipating a challenge and are reacting in a way that prevents a collision – to protect themselves.

However, throughout this season we have seen players yellow-carded for simulation despite clear evidence to show that there was contact with the player. Most notably Chelsea’s Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas, against Burnley and Southampton respectively and Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero, also against Southampton. An argument that followed is that a referee’s decision making process in determined by player reputation rather than the incident itself, a claim that the Referees’ Association has since quashed.

The bigger picture - Part 1 RefereesNothing frustrates a good old-fashioned football fan more than when a pundit or fellow fan comes out and says ‘there was contact, so it must be a foul’. Have they forgotten football is indeed a contact sport? Players are allowed to touch, they are allowed to collide. We witness penalties being awarded each week for the tiniest touches of a player’s foot. Is that really enough to deem a foul? If referees keep awarding penalties just because the defender touched his opponent then soon enough tackling will not exist. Football will not exist.

But it’s not necessarily the referee’s fault. There are so many factors that a referee must be aware of in every single second that passes in a football match. The last thing a referee needs is a player to then try and gain an advantage by diving. What can be done to help the referees out with diving? Here are a few suggestions:

Firstly, a second referee could be added so one official occupies each half. This would lighten the demand of keeping up with play across the entire pitch and would add another set of eyes and perspective to help lower the chances of a player wanting to dive, thinking they can con the referee. Although this could easily work, the problem is that we will still have the same issue of individual judgement in real-time. This means that we could have one hundred referees on the pitch but it still wouldn’t help spotting the minimalest of dives or the softest handball.

A better alternative would be retrospective action for divers and referees alike. If a player is found guilty of diving then they should receive a ban, not a fine as money means nothing to most of these Premier League stars but a strict ban for punishment of cheating.

The bigger picture - Part 1 Referees

Referees these days are getting away with constant poor performances, despite having a difficult job. In any other industry in the world if you perform your job to a consistent poor standard you get sacked, or at the very least punished in some form. This isn’t always the case with referees.

It’s as if a referee’s judgement isn’t based on a situation these days, but who goes down and starts rolling around the quickest. Just watch your very next football match and I guarantee that if there is a 50/50 tackle, the player who goes down injured will always come away with a free-kick because the referees rely heavily on the reaction to an incident rather than actually judging the incident itself. Whether this is because the game is too fast for them or if there is some other explanation, who knows, but something must be done.

Why don’t we allow for a referee to give an interview after the game, explaining why they made the decisions they did? This would allow everyone involved in the sport to see the match from their perspective and who knows, we may even feel sympathy for them… it would be a step further along the line to helping them carry out their job to a good standard.

The bigger picture - Part 1 Referees

How about creating a panel of former referees, managers and players alike who review performances of the referees each week? This would offer up everyone’s perspective of the game and they can discuss the major incidents of the weekend. If there is a general pattern of poor officiating on a constant basis then this referee must be warned and maybe even dropped/suspended for poor performance.

There is currently already a referee panel in place behind closed doors with Dermot Gallagher also giving weekly interviews on Sky Sports News critically analysing the week’s big refereeing decisions, but being former referees themselves, it is likely that they will tend to back the official. With players and managers involved it would offer far better balance and perspective to the discussions.

Whatever the outcome, measures have to be taken soon before football starts to lose its identity. Referees are fastly becoming the culprit and football is its victim. Join us next time where we will continue discussing how to improve refereeing, but this time through the use of technology and how it can have a positive impact on the backwards nature of football.

Originally published at crazyaboutepl.com

Post written by Louis
for Crazy About EPL, Blog: Crazy About EPL, Twitter: @CrazyAboutEPL

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