Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Speaking Out

by Dick Mac

One of the rules that defines political behavior in professional sports leagues is the ban on players, management, and executives making public remarks about officiating.

A manager, head coach, or general manager who criticizes the referees, judges or umpires, is subject to fine and/or suspension. The talent (the players) are sometimes treated more harshly, but generally all are punished when they sully the reputation of the game by questioning the integrity of the arbiters.

It's not unusual for it to happen and the team to pay a fine for the indiscretion, and the wealthier the team, the more likely its management and ownership group to speak-up because the cost of the fine is so nominal.

George Steinbrenner brought it to new heights: he was a very powerful man in baseball, had very deep pockets, and was happy to pay the few grand it cost to speak his mind. In Europe, the wealthier football clubs do the same thing: the manager criticizes the officiating at will, because the few grand he will be fined is nothing compared to the overall budget of the club.

The majority of sport teams, however, do not enjoy this luxury, and it is out-of-the-ordinary to hear a team official criticize the officials.

Come now, Erik Soler, general manager of Red Bull New York, of Major League Soccer. His team (my team) played the Portland Timbers, at Portland, Sunday night in a match that was broadcast nationally.

The referee was a man named Ricardo Salazar, an official who I have always believed hated my team and generally called every match to the benefit of our opponents. I have never typed that before, because it always sounds like sour grapes to blame the officials after a loss; hut, he has consistently called many fouls against New York and fewer fouls against our opponents, home or away, when we were a less wealthy team and now that we are a financial powerhouse, when we were the MetroStars and now that we are the Red Bulls. Every time I saw him on the pitch at the beginning of a match, I knew we were going to be treated unfairly.

So, it was no surprise to me Sunday night when Salazar called every little foul against my side and almost nothing against Portland.

This time, though, it got really insane and either this Salazar guy was unable to control his hatred for my team, he was being paid-off to call the match this poorly, or he is just simply so incompetent that he is unable to call a match between any teams, at any time.

RBNY General Manager Erik Soler called a press conference yesterday, the morning after the match, to publicly discuss the mess of a match and the officiating of Salazar.

The last straw was the issuance of a red card to Thierry Henry, near the end of the match, after an incident during which Henry and an opponent exchanged words, tense words, and Henry sarcastically slapped the guy in the back of the head, making it look like a friendly pat. Henry was out-of-line, but the indiscretion does not merit immediate dismissal from the match!

I found this discussion of a red card at talkfootball.co.uk:
A red card is the heaviest punishment the referee can give to a player. The offender must leave the field at once, and he may well be banned for at least one further match. One he is gone, he cannot be replaced by a substitute; his team must continue with one less man. In the English Premier League there is an automatic three-match ban, although players can appeal against this.

Because they are so powerful, red cards are reserved for very bad behaviour such as violence, abuse or deliberate cheating. A red card can stain an entire team’s performance in a tournament, taking their players out of crucial games and sapping the morale of the squad.

The offences that warrant a red card are defined in FIFA’s Laws of the Game

  1. Being guilty of ‘serious foul play’ (for instance, a very dangerous tackle).
  2. Violence.
  3. Spitting at an opponent or other person.
  4. Denying the other side an opportunity to score by handling the ball.
  5. Denying the other side an opportunity to score by fouling a player.
  6. Offensive or abusive language or gestures.
Players frequently criticise the referee’s decision to ‘book’ them and it is quite ordinary for a yellow card to be upgraded to a red when they argue against his decision.

The system of coloured cards was invented in 1970 by a British Referee called Ken Aston, who came up with the idea while waiting at traffic lights on Kensington High Street.

Although written in English, not American, the rule above is universal.

Like all rules of games, this rule is open to interpretation and what is considered serious by one arbiter may not be considered serious by another. Problems arise when an official holds the two teams to different standards. This is what Ricardo Salazar does whenever the Red Bulls play.

Soler's press conference was enlightening. After discussing the red card to Henry, he revealed this: " . . . there is no way that one team can draw 20 more fouls than the other team, especially in a match where one team drew just five fouls."

A team being called for 25 fouls in a match is not unusual, but when the other team is called for only five, then something is rotten in Denmark (or, Portland, in this case).

Salazar's officiating has been questionable from the first match he worked, and he has acted with impunity.

I am looking forward to the response by Don Garber, Commissioner of MLS. If he is smart (and nobody has ever accused him of that dereliction), he will say nothing; but, if he does respond, he will have to take action either against Soler and RBNY or Ricardo Salazar.

Here is the violent conduct for which Henry was ejected:

Henry abused Moffatt and treated him like a child, which is one of Henry's tactics, and Moffatt struck out, which is what he does. Either both get the same card or both get a verbal warning. Salazar's inequitable treatment is glaring, and he should be punished for it.

Read about Soler's press conference here:

Red Bulls' Erik Soler releases statement regarding New York-Portland Match

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