Four Eyes and Two Whistles

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Great piece in the NY Times about the referees during the World Cup:

SEVERAL months before the 1999 Women’s World Cup, I accompanied the United States national team to Brazil for a series of exhibition matches. One afternoon, at a training facility outside São Paulo, I was pressed into service to help officiate an intra-squad scrimmage. The team’s coach, Tony DiCicco, handed me a red flag and told me to raise it if I detected any infractions.

The field was about 30 yards shorter than the regulation size, which is about 80 yards by 120 yards, and I was to patrol the left sideline. I was confident I could handle the assignment — I played soccer in college and have reported on the sport for more than two decades — but I was quickly proven wrong.

Within the first 10 minutes, the feisty American striker Tiffeny Milbrett stormed past me and hissed out of the side of her mouth: "You’ve already blown two offside calls. What game are you watching?"

She was right. I had missed those calls and who knows how many more. I realized I was watching world-class athletes with world-class speed and, not least, world-class guile. At this level, policing 90 yards of sideline was about 80 yards too many for me.

My brief but inglorious officiating career has been on my mind lately while watching the current men’s World Cup, which culminates in Berlin tomorrow in the championship match between France and Italy. For the last three weeks, no player or coach has had as much of an impact on the tournament as have the referees. Instructed by FIFA, the world’s governing soccer body, to crack down on divers, divas, cheap-shot artists, shirt-pullers, time-wasters and telegenic crybabies, they have responded, some might say overenthusiastically, by issuing a staggering total of 336 yellow cards (a caution that the player’s next infraction will result in ejection) and 27 red cards ("your excellence is no longer required on the pitch, Mr. Rooney"). Depending on how you look at it, this issuing of cards either restored control to a noble sport that had been defiled by cheaters or ruined the World Cup.

Read more here….

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