Thursday, November 01, 2012

The Sound Of Silence

Much has been said elsewhere about what Mark Clattenburg might or might not have said to upset the Chelsea club and its players last weekend. The allegations that he used language of a racial nature will go through their due process, so I'll stay away from offering comment until they have done so.

Had Clattenburg been in charge of a high profile, televised game in either code of rugby however, this incident would already have been put to bed.

Both rugby union and rugby league allow their referees to be miked up and for their comments and instructions to players to be broadcast. It's a useful tool for those who may be relatively new to the game, as by listening to the referee they can understand why he may have given a particular decision which might otherwise have not been apparent.

Occasionally the odd bit of foul language might end up being broadcast when a player forgets that the microphone is there, but it can usually be dealt with through a swift reminder from the referee that their expletives are being broadcast and an apology from the commentators.

Football also has its referees wired for sound. The referee, his assistants and the fourth official can all hear each other and communicate during the game. Yet in football, this is very much a closed circuit. These communications are not recorded, nor are they monitored by anyone other than the four officials involved. They are certainly not broadcast live to the viewing public.

So why not? Football has no problem putting effects microphones on the side of the pitch so it can pick up all manner of inappropriate noises coming out of the stands. It has no issues with shoving microphones under the noses of its players and coaches immediately after games.

So what is this dirty little secret that football is trying to hide from its adoring public?

It is simply, this.

Football is out of control. 

Neither FIFA, nor the national associations, nor the referees at the elite level have any control over the way players behave on the field of play. Sure, they might give the occasional high-profile target a ban for something or other just to make it look like they've got a tight grip of the reins, but the reality is that the players and coaches are a multi-billion pound juggernaut with nobody at the wheel.

For a sport so reliant on the commercial goodwill of sponsors and broadcasters, that's one evil twin that needs to remain firmly locked in the attic. Exposing companies that pump billions into the game to what it is they are actually endorsing could be an unpleasant wake-up call to many.

Football, argues its governors, is a high pressure, physical sport where "industrial" language is often used in the heat of the moment. Anyone who believes that this should somehow set it apart when it comes to broadcasting the sounds of the game might want to consider how it is the oval ball games manage. They are certainly no less intense and definitely no less physical than football, yet their players and coaches behave in a respectful manner towards the officials and opponents.

Were I in the shoes of Mike Riley, head of the Professional Game Match Officials - effectively, the referees union - I would be pushing for one game to be recorded and then aired unedited with the referees microphone turned on. Put it on after the watershed so you don't have to bleep anything, and let the general public see exactly what his members have to put up with on a weekly basis.

It is time that someone opened the door to the attic and exposed football's dirty little secret to the world. Only then will its attitude change.

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