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Welcome to Partially Obstructed View. We are each restrained by the limits of our own perspective, but when we meet to share information a clearer picture of the truth can be revealed. Comments & criticisms are welcome.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Sir, Yes, Sir - The Chain of Command Dilemma

     The question of whether football would benefit from the use of video technology is a long and much debated discussion, which will sadly be decided at another time. The latest round of controversies has seen the inclusion of an extra set of officials, deployed at each end of the pitch, near the byline, to add an additional set of eyes to any disputed goal mouth actions. While these extra referees have been in place for over a year now, in European ties, there is yet to have been any such official who has had any positive influence on the decisions made in a match, the same mistakes are being made, the same actions are being missed. To analyze the root of the problem examine the referee lineup for the Europa League match between FC Twente and Zenit St. Petersberg on March 10th

     The English team of officials was headed by Mark Clattenburg, a fairly prominent and respected match referee, his assistant referee’s were Stephen Child and Darren Cann; Lee Probert, fulfilled the role of the fourth official, while the additional assistant referee’s, were Anthony Taylor and Michael Oliver. Focus on those last two names, Taylor and Oliver, while they are members of the Select Group of Referees, a short list of the top officials in the country, they are by far the youngest and most inexperienced officials assigned to the match. Clattenburg was appointed to the Select Group in 2004, Probert in 2007, both Child and Cann are themselves pulled from the Select Group of Assistants, a similar body of the top assistant referees; Taylor and Oliver, only joined that upper echelon recently, having taken charge of their first Premier League matches this past calendar year, February 3rd and August 21st respectively. Therein lays the flaw of this new system, the younger, inexperienced officials will neither have the ability nor the authority to impose or overrule the more central and experienced lead referee. Leaving aside the possibility of the megalomaniacal narcissism of a referee impeding due action; the famous story of former referee David Ellery, telling his assistants to only concern themselves with offside calls, leave the rest to him and to wait for his cue regarding which way to flag for possession, there is indeed a risk that these subordinates positioned to help achieve maximum accuracy will be ignored or marginalized.

     There is a tragic airline accident known as the Tenerife Airport Disaster, in which two Boeing 747’s, KLM 4805 and Pan Am Flight 1736, collided on the runway. A bomb detonation at nearby Gran Canaria International Airport had resulted in many flights being diverted to the smaller airport. Through mitigating factors, such as fog, overcrowding, non-standard language and communication difficulties, the cause was disputed, but the disaster was a result of the very experienced captain of the KLM, being impatient to complete his itinerary, not waiting for proper clearance to taxi and take-off. There is some suggestion that the flight engineer was aware of a problem in the procedure, but was reluctant to overstep his remit, as the captain was a very senior official, who played a major role in the training and clearance of both the engineer and many others in the Dutch owned fleet. As the KLM flight proceeded to attempt liftoff, the Pan Am Flight was taxiing down the runway, resulting in the death of 583 passengers and crew.

     This flaw in the Chain of Command system, where a subordinate is not able to question or clarify a situation to his superior, is the heart of the problem for these additional officials, though thankfully with less damaging consequences. The solution to such a flaw, put simply, is to replace these younger officials, with much more experienced officials. The current retirement age for European referees is 45 years of age; due to the increasing pace of the game at the top level, there is a concern that past this age the fitness of the official would not allow them to keep up to the flow of the action. As these relatively stationary positions require very little running, the current age limit is simply wasting many top officials with vast experience by not employing them in these vital positions. A more senior official would also be more able to impress his opinion on his colleague and have the wisdom of his view be recognized than the relative rookies he would be replacing. No one would dismiss the advice of an official with the command and presence of Pierluigi Collina, not even Mark Clattenburg.

Note – The impetus to write and post this article was prompted by 5live’s Football Daily podcast, where one panelist mentioned the flaw in the system and Chappers’ Premier League podcast, where both the flaw and the solution were discussed. These ideas, both of problem and solution, had been floating around in my head for some time, but I had yet to commit them to record. Hat tip to the television show,  Mayday, a fascinating if terrifying, program on the problems encountered in aviation disasters.

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