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Should referees have microphones? The arguments for and against

Referees
(Image credit: Getty)

There wasn't much to discuss about Manchester United's drab 0-0 draw with Chelsea last week, aside from one incident.

After the Blues' Callum Hudson-Odoi appeared to commit a handball in the area, it looked like United could have had a penalty, as referee Stuart Atwell was told by VAR to take a second look. Atwell decided against giving the spot-kick, with Luke Shaw seemingly accusing the ref of saying to Harry Maguire, "If I say it is a pen, then it is going to cause a lot of talk afterwards".

What's followed since is a conversation about micing up referees. With Shaw apparently mishearing the original conversation, some are suggesting that more needs to be done to clarify the decisions that on-field officials are making.

So should referees be miced up during games? We asked FFT writers Ed McCambridge and Mark White - who both have differing views - to give their cases for and against.

Yes, we should be able to hear the referees - Ed McCambridge (@edmccambridge)

It wasn’t all that long ago FIFA stubbornly rejected all forms of technological advancements in football. 

Whenever a brainy new gadget was suggested, the organisation argued that football is a simple game and should remain such; that any new developments deployed at the highest level would distance it from the game played in streets, public parks and playgrounds. Why should Premier League referees have VAR and goal-line technology to call on, it once claimed, when officials in poorer nations and in Sunday League football do not? 

Indeed, there are few football fans, including myself, who wouldn’t press a button and go back to a simpler time, before the VAR, the slow-motion replays and the giant stadium screens. With that in mind, it now seems odd that I would want referees to wear microphones - another bit of gadgetry that only adds to the mayhem. 

However, I feel this particular update would actually make things simpler. With VAR unlikely to vanish from the game, we need to find ways to make it better, and a key issue right now is that we have no idea what is going on between match officials and the video assistant. A goal is scored, a whistle is blown, a finger is popped into an ear, some nodding takes place and then a goal is chalked off. Commentators, pundits and those of us sitting at home are then required to guess what just happened. This has to stop. 

Referees

(Image credit: Getty)

A microphone would allow the referee to state why he’s made a call. Nothing detailed - just a quick “freekick for handball” would do it. We’d then know what has happened. We’d still be free to criticise that decision, but the confusion about the call itself would stop.

Anyone concerned about the constant stream of panting from a referee chasing, say, Theo Walcott on a quickfire counter-attack needn’t worry about that either - we don’t need to hear the referee between decisions. TV broadcasters could activate the mics as soon as the whistle is blown for an infringement and turn them off as soon as play resumes. We’d only hear the bit that mattered. 

Mics would also protect referees. Top-level players would be less likely to verbally abuse an official if a microphone picks up their voice too, and the FA could charge those who cross the line. That would, in turn, lead to more respect from elite players, whose example would then trickle down to young people watching from home. They don’t eff and blind at referees, you shouldn't too. 

Finally, it would also protect the referee against any more grave accusations, such as racism. The episode which saw Mark Clattenburg defending himself against charges of calling Ramires a racist name could have been immediately avoided with a microphone - he’d said “I couldn’t give a monkey’s”. 

If top-level football is to go on relying on video assistance, while doing little to combat the abuse of referees, microphones are a must. 

No, we should stop making referees the centre of attention - Mark White (@markwhlte)

I might be alone in this - but I can’t say I’ve ever wanted to hear more of what Craig Pawson has to say. 

Once upon a time, we assumed that VAR would save the day. We wanted to banish the raging injustice from our sport - but if anything, we’ve created a bigger conversation about it. We used to discuss the error of human nature: now we talk of why an all-seeing, all-knowing eye of the game is failing us.

Hearing referees explain their decisions doesn’t settle the debate: it throws oil on the flames. We’ve tried interjecting the likes of Peter Walton into football matches to shed light and it doesn’t help. The problem seems to be that if someone interprets the game one way, someone else will interpret it another: even if it’s a handball or an offside, something that should be definitively one way or another. It feels naive to me that players and fans would simply accept a decision because they’ve heard it from the horse’s mouth.

Most of the time, the commentator knows exactly what’s happening. It’s very rare that a football fan doesn’t understand the decision that’s just been made. A ref mic feels needless most of the time. 

Referees

(Image credit: PA)

And anyway, are we not sick of discussing referees? We have the world’s greatest league, a golden era of English talent and yet we spend most of every half-time debating the very rules of the game. The beauty of football should be that it’s so easy to understand, that you don’t need someone to tell you how to play it. 

How will this affect fans in the stadium, too? Will they have to download an app and watch the game with headphones on? 

Generally, we should do as little as possible to distance the football that you play in the park from the football that you see at the very highest level. Perhaps I'm just too disenchanted with the state of how technology has been implemented in football this far, in the governing bodies who run the sport and the officials I see every week, to think that adding another layer of confusion would actually solve anything.

Let’s aim for basic consistency and simplicity before we start implementing more technology to fix the technology that’s not actually giving us the results we wanted. Referees should be background observers overseeing the peace in a football match: they shouldn't be lead characters with a script. 

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