Law 5 – The Referee: A late arrival makes his mark

When Armando Marques (Brazilian, one of the candidates to referee the final of the World Cup in 1974) was overlooked in favour of another candidate, he was furious. He called the organisation of the refs at that tournament shameful, and declared “the committee is officially composed of nine members, but [in reality] everything is decided by three people – Aston, the Austrian Seipelt and [José María] Codesal”. Marques would have had more chance this time round.

After the assignments for the first two days of matches at this World Cup were released, there are no prizes for guessing who the three powerful men of Qatar 2022 are. Even by FIFA’s standards however, the politics has become particuarly brazen this time round. 

Wilson Seneme ponders how to invite even more Brazilians to Qatar

I was really disappointed yesterday and genuinely quite shocked reading the assignments – though the sight of FIFA Media racing to beat Arbitro Internacional to posting at least one appointment so far did put raise a smile. It is not that Raphael Claus, Wilton Pereira Sampaio or Abdulrahman Al-Jassim are bad referees – indeed, they are all quite competent officials – but the co-ordination of the first four matches as a package really sat quite uneasily with me indeed. One can easily guess the price of the Italians forcing through Orsato for the opening game was to give some other people what they wanted. 

Who am I talking about? Well, let’s take a look at whom FIFA have listed as committee members:

Pierluigi COLLINA (chairman)

Hany Taleb AL RAEESI (vice-chairman)

An Yan LIM KEE CHONG

Dagmar DAMKOVA

Eddy MAILLET

Enrique CACERES

Kevin STOLTENKAMP

Michelle PYE

Neil POLOSO

Nicola RIZZOLI

Roberto ROSETTI

Shamsul MAIDIN

Wilson SENEME

No offence to Neil Poloso, the former assistant referee from the Soloman Islands whom on his social media platforms seems more interested in talking about banal ‘EPL’ matters than actual refereeing stuff, but it is obvious that some of the people listed will have more power and influence than him. If you guessed that Pierluigi Collina (with his two Italians in tow), Hany Taleb Ballan Al-Raeesi and Wilson Seneme are the men really calling the shots, then you’d be spot on. By the way – that is completely normal, there are more ‘involved’ people on any commission than others, it is how such things work. But even for a seasoned, cynical World Cup refs observer, what they did in 2022 was quite extra-ordinary.

WC2006’s Shamsul Maidin is on the committee this time
How the politics used to work was probably a bit different. Having a referees committee member, or even a member of the executive committee, ‘looking after you’ was enough to get you on the quasi ‘pre-selected list’ (FIFA made a lot of noise after 2002 and indeed it got much better, but this process de facto already existed since road to 1986). You’d attend the Youth World Cups, and be in with a decent shot at selection if those went well. This was the real advantage. I’m not sure that this system was really that satisfying, eg. you could be an excellent referee from a smaller CAF/AFC country, and the likelihood is that you’d never have gotten a look-in, but I guess FIFA accepted that they couldn’t watch every single match going.

I don’t want to be too much of a gloom-bearer, but this is how refereeing works. Jozef Marko being on the UEFA committee from the mid-1990s allowed him to ‘create’ the excellent referee Ľuboš Micheľ, Vladimir Šajn from the mid-noughties allowed him develop excellent Damir Skomina, Reidar Bjørnestad (RIP :/) for Pedersen and then Hauge – and so on. This is how refereeing works, it is a simple fact of life, it is how (in theory) excellent referees from countries not in focus could never get past the third category. (And it is also how smaller countries are so receptive to Rosetti’s – “I’ll give your guy a chance”; of course, UEFA have no real plans for them (or anything really), but the promise sounds good!).

Anyway, in my judgement, once the World Cup started, while of course having ‘someone on your side’ was beneficial (see Bouzo and Al-Sharif repeatedly being allowed to destroy games), the committee did work to at least appear relatively fair. Never, ever, did we have such a chaotic start where the tournament will be intiated by only officials from the three most ‘favourable’ countries from the committee’s perspective. It is a remarkably regressive step (I can’t recall such a bad one since 1978 final choices) at a tournament which — according to the mainstream media’s narrative anyway — is the most progressive ever for the refs. A thought: could those two even be linked?

Today I am a nepotistic referees committee member
When you analyse the choices for opening games in past World Cups, mostly you will see some effort to balance the confederations a bit. I’m sure that people like Sepp Blatter, an extremely relevant person in refereeing (probably much more so than you currently think), put a lot of pressure on committee members to deliver a politically satisfying result – the key issue for him was giving oppotunities to ‘CAF’ and ‘AFC’ members so he wouldn’t be ejected as FIFA president. Indeed, the reason why the most chaotic World Cup internally until now (2002 in the Far East) was so, owes to Blatter deliberately weakening the committee as he had ‘favours to repay’ after his controversial re-election in that spring. They argued about all the appointments and the final absurdity, Ragoonath to the quarterfinal, had the known consequences.

We know that Infantino’s focus now is less on the confederational balancing, and more on losing the plot in press conferences pushing the case for female representation and giving a positive image of FIFA to the irritatingly (and I’d argue malevolently) unquestioning mainstream media. This games the committee members a kind of ‘unique freedom’ so long as they satisfy this demand, and that is how we can end up with an Italo-Brazilian-Qatari opening of the World Cup. The trend should be well-known to one of the committee members too – let Čeferin do what he wants, and a carte blanche for the rest. The funniest thing about all this is that Arbitro Internacional reported that Seneme arrived late in Qatar, from a instruction session he was hosting in South America. Perhaps this is is the definition of being fashionably late! 😀 

Of course, it should be acknowledged that there are some balancing elements (for instance CAF VMO crew for Al-Jassim), but really not much at all. And it is not like those four referes of games one to four are at the top either. Orsato is, but the fitness concerns are legitimate; and Claus, Sampaio, Al-Jassim are absolutely not eg. Rapallini, Tello, Shukralla. But there we are. 

Therefore: those who might speak of something like a ‘Brave New World’ and new era for refereeing at this World Cup are absolutely correct, but I’m quite sure they don’t really grasp the reasons for which they are right…

Let’s hope the tournament and the assigning process returns to a more stable mode from here on. Good luck to all officials at the tournament, but a special mention for the third team (so appropriate for this WC ;)) of Qatar vs. Ecuador, the opening game played this afternoon. All the best from us here at Law5 for a good match!

Law 5 – The Referee: A late arrival makes his mark

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