By Linus Mba
SOME days ago, precisely Sunday 21 June 2009, a Car Hire driver was taking me from town to the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, Domestic Wing, Abuja to catch a flight back to Lagos after participating in a very successful Course for the National Referees Physical Fitness Instructors organised by the Nigeria Football Federation.
These instructors will form the core set of experts who will concentrate mainly on the physical fitness development of the Nigerian referees in line with the guidelines from FIFA and CAF.
Physical fitness is now a specialised field in football refereeing and such training is geared towards meeting the athletic demands on referees during matches as against the general fitness training of the past that culminated into the Cooper Test. Now referees are subjected to the FIFA Endurance Tests – a more appropriate measure of fitness and stamina for football umpires.
I am sorry for the little digression and back on course of our journey to the airport, indeed as we droveÂ by the National Stadium Abuja, the driver observed inquisitively, â€˜ Oga I see FIFA/CAF identity pins on you; you must be one of those ogas in our footballâ€™.
â€˜If you say so then I am one; I will be telling lies should I deny; but who in Nigeria is not a football manâ€™,Â I questioned? He then asked further, â€˜Sir what will you people do to a referee who allowed nine goals to be scored in a match; I mean the Zamfara United and the Kaduna United last match of the league [in the Globacom Premier League]â€™ he asked adding that the view of his friends was that the whistle should be taken away from the referee forever.
Without going into arguments about the impression of sporting morality the match has created, I explained to my driver friend that the Referee had no blames whatsoever.
My friend was surprised. â€˜Yesâ€™ I continued â€˜the referee has no blames as long as all the goals met the requirements of the Laws of the Gameâ€™ I assured him.
Law Ten of the Laws spells out the Method of Goal scoring. The Law states and I quote â€˜A goal is scored when the whole of the ball passes over the goal line, between the goalposts and under the crossbar,Â provided that no infringement of the Laws has been committed previously by the team scoring the goal.
The referee has neither the authority to reject any number of goals scored by any team or to query any team why they are scoring or conceding any number of goals.
The Referee dutifully confirmed that the goals scored during the Zamfara United and Kaduna United match met the requirements of the Law. It is important to use this opportunity to state quite clearly that there is nothing in the Laws of the Game that talks about â€˜GOOD GOALâ€™.
There is no such thing as â€˜GOOD or BADâ€™ goals. It is either a Goal or NOT a Goal. So the nine goals were correctly confirmed.
I received my first call after the publication of the last edition of this column asking me to explain further the difference between illegal and legal time â€˜wastingâ€™ tactics.
Time wasting â€˜illegalâ€™ tactics include;
*Delaying leaving the field of play when being substituted
*Taking free kicks from the wrong position with the sole intention of forcing the referee to order a retake
*Appearing to take the throw-in but suddenly leaving it to one of his team mates to take
*Kicking the ball away or carrying it with the hands after the referee had stopped play and many more.
Time Consuming is a situation when the players of a team knock the ball about among themselves more; often within their penalty area unchallenged by the opposition. They are likely to continue to use this tactic to consume time particularly when they are leading – to frustrate their opponents. The legality here as it were is that their players have not prevented the opponents from challenging for the ball.
Offence of the hand
A penalty kick was awarded against Egypt at the last minute of their match with Brazil in the just concludedÂ FIFA Confederation Cup competition in South Africa because of a hand ball offence. Egypt protested to FIFA after the match but lost the appeal. Brazil won 3-2.
The award of a last minute penalty kick in our Nigerian football competitions is capable of provoking team officials and their fans to pull down the stadium.Â But the award of penalty kick at the last minute is part of the game.
The Laws have not prescribed at what time, in a match disciplinary sanctions should be imposed. It may well be at the first second or even the last second.
To buttress this point, part of the directive to referees under Law Seven – The Duration ofÂ a Match- is and I quote:Â â€˜If a penalty kick is to be taken or retaken [because the award has been made at the end of theÂ duration of either half] time is extended until the penalty is completed.
The Nigerian league fans must be prepared to accept the Laws of the GameÂ and their Application as prescribed by FIFA. Anything short does not promote healthy development of the game
Returning to the issue of the Offence of the Hand, this write-up wishes to clarify correct interpretation assessment of the hand ball offence. The hand is considered from the joint with the shoulder blade to the fingers. Handling the ball involves a deliberate act of a player making contact with the ball with his hand or arms.
The operative phrase here is â€˜a deliberate act of a playerâ€™. Who then decides that an act is deliberate?
Only the Referee is empowered to make such a judgement. Law Five states â€˜the decisions of the referee regarding facts connected with play including whether or not a goal is scored and the result of the match is final.â€™
Of course the referee can change a decision if he realises that it is incorrect. The change is permitted provided the game has not been restarted. Sweeping and dictatorialÂ the power may seem, all referees are expected to exercise a lot of caution in their application of the Laws as long as the Spirit of the Letters of the Games is protected.
After all the referee is always under the watchful eyes of the Match Commissioners and Referees Inspectors/Assessors who, though cannot overturn such decisions, but can provide convincing reports of the match incidents which may cast some slur on the process of decision by the referee.
This remark can damage the refereeâ€™s future development which most referees would not like to experience.
In concluding this write up, FIFA directs referees to take the following into consideration in judging offences of the Hand:
*Movement of the hand towards the ball [which is an offence] as against them ball towards the hand[that is not punishable]
*The distance between the opponent and the ball. When the ball is played at very close range of the opponent, there is no way the opponent can remove his hand because they are in their natural position
*Touching the ball with an object held in the hand -Â clothing,Â Â Â Â Â boots, shin guard etc – are considered as an extension of the hand which counts as an infringement.
*Hitting the ball with a thrown object [boots, shin guard etc] counts as an infringement.
The final sanction of the referee for this offence will be determined byÂ the location of the offence and the circumstances under which it is committed.