Unnecessary referee apology undermines authority of match officials
Saying sorry for referees' decisions sends out wrong signal
As a former referee, the recent apology by Mike Riley, the head of the Professional Games Match Officials Ltd (PGMOL), on behalf of referee Andre Marriner, leaves a sour taste in the mouth.
The apology came in the wake of a penalty awarded by Marriner to Chelsea in their home game against West Brom. Riley admitted that he phoned the West Brom coach Steve Clark to apologise on behalf of his organisation, of which Marriner is a member.
The PGMOL are the body who control and organise professional refereeing in the English Premier League. Riley is a former referee and retired to take up the position of manager along with another former referee, Neale Barry.
West Brom were winning 2-1 at Chelsea and the penalty in added time denied them a famous victory at the Stamford Bridge ground.
The debate on whether it was the correct decision still rages on. Let me put the issue in perspective by quoting you what the FIFA Laws of the Game state:
'Each match is controlled by a referee who has full authority to enforce the Laws of the Game in connection with the match to which he has been appointed.'
'The decisions of the referee regarding facts connected with play, including whether or not a goal is scored and the result of the match, are final.
'The referee may only change a decision on realising that it is incorrect or, at his discretion, on the advice of an assistant referee or the fourth official, provided that he has not restarted play or terminated the match.'
The perception of a 'mistake' by the referee does not come into it. Nowhere in the FIFA Laws of the Game does it say that a referee has to apologise for a 'mistake'. Referees don't make mistakes, they make decisions, and according to the Laws of the Game their decision is final whether it is seen to be a mistake or not.
The problems that now arise are: Is this apology going to be a precedent? Where does this leave referee Andre Marriner and other referees in the Premier League? Where does it leave referees in general? Will Mike Riley now be constantly on television and radio apologising for all and every mistake made by the match officials under his control?
My view is that the only mistake made here is the fact that the head of the PGMOL found it necessary to take the step he did. His actions, in my opinion, send out all the wrong signals and undermine the referees' body and its members, the referees themselves.
Following on the heels of the apology to West Brom, Sunderland manager Gus Poyet is now demanding an apology from the PGMOL chief following the red card issued to Wes Brown (since rescinded). Even Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho found it strange, commenting that "nobody called me to apologise about the fact it was not a free-kick against West Brom for their second goal".
When times are tough people look for leadership, they look for guidance and they look for direction. In my opinion, Mike Riley did not provide leadership to his referees.
In this world we have leaders and followers and in my opinion as a referee, coach, mentor and administrator of referees up to and including World Cup level, Mike Riley is not a leader.
My advice to referees and assistant referees is to do your job without fear or favour. React when you see an incident and dish out the appropriate punishment regardless of the teams involved and to hell with the consequences. It's not your problem. Be happy in the knowledge that you did your job as best you could with honesty, integrity and fairness.
Errol Sweeney is a former League of Ireland and South African Premier League referee