Monday, July 10, 2006

A Rush Of Blood To The Head

So who does Horacio Elizondo think he is?

When Zinadine Zidane head-butted an opponent in the World Cup ’06 final last night, the referee did not see the incident; nor did the two assistant referees. It was the fourth and fifth officials, looking at video replay, who brought the moment of madness to the referee’s attention. But video evidence is not admissible in the course of a game: it cannot be used to over-rule where a decision – off-side flag; penalty awarded, or not awarded – is shown to be incorrect. The referees did not see the incident, and so, having had it drawn to his attention, Mr Elizondo had only one possible response: to cite Zidane for misconduct in the post-match report, causing him to be summoned before a disciplinary hearing, at which he could explain his actions and be given a not-insubstantial fine, and a however-many-match ban (academic, given that this was his last match, but necessary nonetheless). But Mr Elizondo did not do the only thing he could have done: he reached for the red card, and dismissed arguably the greatest exponent of The Beautiful Game (“What? Aren’t you forgetting Pelé?” “Please. Why do old people insist that everything was better when they were young?”) in the closing moments of his illustrious career. The only conceivable explanation is this: Elizondo sought to make a name for himself.

In support of this claim, this is the referee who flourished his red card at Wayne Rooney just eight days earlier. Rooney had a Portugal player hanging on to each arm. The referee should have blown his whistle there and then, and awarded England a free kick. But he did not. Rooney shook one of his assailants off; and so the remaining one went to the floor, trying to pull Rooney down with him. In his attempt to stay on his feet, Rooney put his foot down on his opponent’s groin – a groin that was only there because the player had gone to floor in an attempt to pull Rooney over. And for this – the referee egged-on by winking Ronaldo – Rooney was dismissed. Flack was directed at Wayne, for loosing his temper; and coach Sven Goran Erickson, for leaving Rooney on his own up front, a strategy guaranteed to see him losing his temper in the end; while Elizondo marched on to the final. Here, surely, is an official seeking to be Somebody; a referee whose actions bring the game into disrepute.

The referee does not see what is there; he interprets what is before him. And I do not see what is there, either: I interpret too. And my interpretation is informed by all of my prejudices, which filter what I ‘see.’ (I proposed calling our first child Zinadine Zidane. My wife was having none of it. Fortunately for her, we had a daughter, and it mattered not.) This is how we make sense of the world. It is not that there is nothing there; or that there is anything you like there; but that we don’t see ‘it’ as ‘it’ is. And whenever we talk about God, or humanity, or the world we live in; and whenever we read scripture; we do so through a constructed and a compromised grid. That doesn’t mean we should not speak – for, with no way of removing ourselves, of being a neutral observer, the only alternative would be to join the giraffes as a silent species. But it does suggest that we should speak provisionally, partially, with humility; and hold our views lightly. Even our views about [insert here].

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  1. Anonymous1:26 pm

    Fifa explanation is that the offence was seen by the fourth official (who does not have access to the video)and that he was initially taken up with controlling the respective staff on the line before perfectly legitimately reporting it to the referee as something he had seen - the referee was then fully entitled to show a red card for an offence seen by one of his officials. It was simply an act of thuggery with a perfectly legitimate response from the referee.

  2. anonymous - this doesn't detract from the point I am making, about the way in which our passions and prejudices, and finite minds, filter and construct meaning. In any example we might choose, there is information that is not available to us (not least because we are finite creatures), and information that is available (in the example I use, I actually link to the BBC coverage of Fifa's denial that video evidence was involved in the decision). But even with whatever information IS available to us, we make decisions about whether we trust this information - qualified or unreservedly - or distrust the source, and therefore are suspicious of or outright dismiss the information (e.g. of course Fifa are going to back their official by denying the allegation).

    At the end of the day, the very fact that you're view of what happened is different from mine supports my observation that our views are not and never can be a neutral and total laying-bear of the reality they point to.

  3. A good illustration — thanks.

  4. you are talking rubbish. paul walsh's portsmouth years were clearly the finest ever in the history of football.

  5. i have no idea what that means. i assume it means something like 'right on, football lover'.

  6. Rolling On floor Laughing