Smith: Refs are human, need technology tools

MAN IN THE MIDDLE: Peter O'Leary made it to the greatest stage in world football but faltered.
MAN IN THE MIDDLE: Peter O'Leary made it to the greatest stage in world football but faltered.

Kiwi match officials Peter O'Leary and Mark Rule might go down in a blaze of glory as the men who inspired the widespread use of video technology at future World Cups.

The pair are in the gun for two critical calls which sent first-time finalists Bosnia and Herzegovina crashing out of the Fifa World Cup in Brazil.

Linesman Rule, a Palmerston North podiatrist and a former goalkeeper for the Shirley Boys High School first XI in Christchurch, wrongly flagged for offside when Manchester City striker Edin Dzeko scored a legitimate goal.

The Bosnians also protested that O'Leary, a Whangarei schoolteacher, missed a blatant foul on their captain Emir Saphic in the leadup to the goal that gave Nigeria a 1-0 victory.

Dzeko slammed O'Leary's performance as "shameful" and said he should be going home. Teammate Sejad Salihovic lamented: "Edin was one yard onside. I have no clue what the linesman was seeing."

The Kiwi duo had better not book a summer holiday in Sarajevo anytime soon.

Some 20,000 frustrated fans have already signed an online petition calling for O'Leary to be sacked and the match declared a 1-1 draw. Their passion is understandable, but their reaction is over the top.

Rule's ruling was wrong - Dzeko was at least level with a defender - but the "foul" on Saphic was a 50-50 call.

The latter decision was nowhere near as disgraceful as Guatemalan referee Carlos Batres' call to give Italy a penalty against the All Whites at the 2010 World Cup finals after a theatrical dive by Azzurri midfielder Daniele de Rossi.

Not to mention the two shameful spotkicks awarded to Kuwait by Indonesian official Hardiowasito Sudarso in the All Whites' World Cup qualifier in Auckland in 1981.

It also pales in comparison - if we may switch codes for an instant - with some of English ref Wayne Barnes' calls when the All Blacks tumbled out of the 2007 Rugby World Cup quarterfinal against France.

Bitter Bosnian fans have seized on a photo of a grinning O'Leary "celebrating" with his arm around the Nigerian goalkeeper after the final whistle.

It was an unfortunate image, but innocent all the same. O'Leary's integrity is unimpeachable.

But it's a fair bet he and his Kiwi assistants won't get another game at this World Cup.

Football may be the world's most popular sport - and this World Cup is the best spectacle since the 1982 edition - but Fifa could still learn a thing or two from their oval ball code counterparts.

It's time for Fifa to bring in the TMO, the video referee, for marginal decisions. O'Leary should have been able to signal upstairs for a video replay of the Dzeko "offside". If he was unsure about the push on Saphic, he should have been able to check back, as rugby referees can now do, further back behind the play.

The goal-line technology being used at this World Cup is a welcome innovation. Replays are flashed on screen within nanoseconds, so checking offsides and fouls in the leadup to goals needn't take much time and disrupt the flow of the game.

There is so much at stake, national pride included, on the World Cup stage now. Fifa needs to do everything in its powers to make sure crucial decision are fair and above board.

Football also needs to adopt rugby's citing commissioner system. Diving remains an ugly blot on the so-called beautiful game.

The sport is so quick now that match officials can't always detect with the naked eye a theatrical tumble by a craven cheat hoping to win a penalty, or get an opponent cautioned or sent off.

A citing commissioner could check the tape to discern any dives. Offenders should receive instant one-match bans for a first offence and be booted out of the tournament for multiple breaches.

But supporters and television viewers must accept there will always be controversy over officials' interpretations - until, sporting fixtures are refereed by robots.

Fans are quick to forgive players for the most egregious of errors but demand 100 per cent perfection from the poor old ref 100 per cent of the time.

This may be news to many, but referees are human. Even the best make mistakes at times. But you can't have a World Cup without them.

The Press