Tomorrow marks the start of the European Nations Championship, held in Poland and Ukraine, known as EURO-12. Once again we in the USA are fortunate that all the matches are being shown live on a major sports network that most people probably have access to at home, or can go to a pub or sports bar to watch. Because of the time difference between the US and central Europe, the games are on during the day. However they are also available by internet streaming to computers, so enthusiasts at work can watch also (provided the boss doesn’t notice or is a soccer fan!)
As we have done previously, with the World Cup and other major matches, we will be blogging on aspects of these matches, in particular with special attention to the officiating. The games will be officiated using the additional assistant referees stationed on the goal lines. This is to avoid errors such as those that occurred during the 2010 World Cup and in some high profile matches in England recently, concerning the scoring of a goal and whether or not the ball had fully crossed the goal line which we have discussed at length in previous blogs.
One of the items we will be watching for concerns the techniques used by the assistant referees.
Almost two years ago, (see entries for June 28 and November 6, 2010) we discussed the techniques for assistant referees concerning which hand to carry the flag in during particular periods in the match. This had come about because we had noticed that in the World Cup and other high level international matches, the ARs would hold the flag in the right hand whenever they were within about 20-25 yards of the goal line, and were side-stepping to observe the play. Also they tended to keep the flag in the right hand when a corner kick was being taken. We noted then that this was a sensible thing to do because during these periods, almost every signal required will be given with the right hand (offside, goal kick, corner kick, foul by defender and throw in to attacking team), as well as already being in the right hand for when the ball is cleared out back upfield by the defending team. Or to avoid this happening!
This was an issue because in the US and domestic matches in some other countries, the ARs hold the flag in the left hand during an attack, except when making a signal with the right hand. The reasoning behind this is so that the referee has a good view of the flag. The other reason we have heard is that holding the flag in the left hand allows some “thinking time” before transferring the flag to the right hand to signal something. In this way it helps ARs to avoid making quick but incorrect decisions for example in the case of offside, the so-called “wait -and – see” technique.
But realistically, most top referees have no difficulty seeing the flag held in the right hand when the AR is facing the field and simply side-stepping as opposed to running downfield, and there are other techniques that can be used to provide thinking time.
This has been the required mechanic for ARs in the US for many years, and several ARs have told me that they have been marked down by assessors if they deviate from this instruction. This is unfortunate especially when it is used by top ARs in the highest level competitions in the world. However there is good news on the horizon. I was informed by one of the top instructors/assessors in US Soccer, that ARs are now allowed to use the right hand method if they so choose, although it is not required. We feel this is a sensible approach.
Now we just need to get away from the insistence that ARs sprint full out to the goal line to indicate a goal kick when the ball has been hoofed way over the goal and into Row Z in a stadium or onto the adjacent pitch or parking lot in lower level games. This unnecessarily risks a pulled muscle, cramp or a waste of energy that could be needed for a genuine reason to sprint 40 yards to the goal line, when the ball is being hotly contested.
Finally, we have wondered why it is still necessary for ARs to indicate the position of an offside infraction with the “second” signal, following having initially raised the flag for offside. Before the changes in the offside interpretation, a second signal was required because it was possible for more than one attacker to be penalized for being in an offside position, and the AR had to indicate which one he had identified and therefore where the ball should be placed (near, center or far side) for the free kick. But now, almost always it is only one player who is offside when he becomes active, and therefore it is obvious where the ball should be placed laterally, thereby rendering the second signal redundant.