Serie A



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Let’s Talk About… The Referees

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In this week’s latest ‘Let’s Talk About’ series, Alex Mascitti gives his take on the recent controversy surrounding the referees.

I can already hear the various fanbases sharpening their knives as I write this article. In Italy, everybody hates the referees, it may well be the only common denominator between the all the ultras in the Peninsula.

But why?

The answer is both simple, and very complex.

Italians are already very skeptical people in general. It’s one of the many traits the Italian people share, and that’s a wormhole I won’t attempt to dive into today. The point is, they all feel like somebody is out to get them from the shadows, and if history is any guide, they really have a good reason to be.

Since the days of the Roman Republic, Italia has been ruled by foreigners in large part. The people have been betrayed, conquered and promised falsehoods in a cyclical fashion that has continued up until the present. That’s why the regions of Italy are all so distinct and unique. That’s also why there’s such a universal hate for the arbitri or the refs.

In the past four decades, there have been a slew of major scandals that have shaken Italian football to its core. Totonero which saw AC Milan relegated in the 80s, Calciopoli which sent Juventus into Serie B about a decade ago, and the Calcioscommesse scandal which uncovered a massive amount of betting fraud in all rings of Italian football. Third parties in Italy have a lot of say in what goes on, and it seems there’s always somebody lurking from the darkness.

This all brings us to the present, week after week. Controversial decisions made by referees turn into match-fixing arguments almost immediately. Claims that referees are on certain clubs’ payrolls soon follow. Even the newspapers get in on it, which further inflames a situation where it’s becoming impossible for referees to do their job.

However, perhaps the least-disliked referee in Italy, Nicola Rizzoli, pushed back against a story ran by TGcom editor Paolo Liguori. In fact, Rizzoli sued Liguori in 2016 for claiming that he favors Juventus and ‘should be banned from officiating matches at J-Stadium’.

That’s a ludicrous idea from Liguori, and thankfully it seems the Italian refereeing body ‘AIA’ won’t begin to create certain criteria to bar referees from going to certain stadiums. But, reform is coming to Serie A, in the form of VARS or Video Assistant Referees, the equivalent to the challenge rule in the NFL.

In today’s hyper-automated world, people demand accuracy at the speed of light. There’s no margin or tolerance of human error in 2017, and continuing down this path will erode what makes football – football. The human aspect of sport is why we watch sports. Implementing computers and cameras to officiate matches is just downright disrespectful to the game and will call into the question the legitimacy of results from the past. But unfortunately for myself and those who align their opinion with mine, we are in the extreme minority.

Many fans wanted goal-line technology and they got it. Now they want automated offside calls, review for penalties, red cards, etc. It’s eroding the nature of sport, and there’s no stopping it.

For the average Serie A referee, the reforms may come as a reprieve, perhaps they won’t be in everybody’s crosshairs at the end of a match.