Thursday, May 07, 2009

"Dommeren er købt"

There has already been much talk about last night's Norwegian referee, Mr. Henning Ovrebo, and I must add some thinking myself: I think that it was a pity and bad luck for Chelsea that they didn't win, but I preferred Barcelona. At the same time, I think that the referee was incredibly bad for both teams, but of course, it was more felt by Chelsea, who should have had two penalties called (and not six like some people are saying!).
Bad refereeing is unfortunately not an unseen phenomenon, and in particular not regarding Mr. Ovrebo, who in the Euro 2008 made such a poor performance on the Italy-Romania match, that he was not given any more matches in that tournament...
Need I say more...?

In the many years I have been a football-fan, I have always had a problem with referees. I have always found it suspicious that the apparently impartial guys in black have such an important role in the outcome of the matches, and at the same time there is so little on the part of the referees themselves in trying to improve their own position (for instance, referees are notably against using technological aids to improve refereeing). Also, I have always found it suspicious that referees who are consistently bad, are rewarded again and again by getting more and more big matches, just like happened with Mr. Ovrebo, or has even happened with the infamous Danish referee Jens Larsen.
Many friends of mine, have always made fun of me of when I have insinuated "partisanship" by referees. Because of this, I find it quite amusing that so many people (including Danish TV3 commentator Preben Elkjær and Chelsea player Bosingwa) now have few quarrels in insinuating corruption by Mr. Ovrebo in last night's Champions League semifinal.
Most referees are good and do their best, and very few are corrupt, but some are incompetent, what I personally just think Mr. Ovrebo is. But at the same time, I would be very careful about totally dismissing the possiblity of foul play. Unfortunately, it has been seen at top level in Europe in many instances:

  • In 1984 Anderlecht (with three Danish players) defeated Nottingham Forest in a scandalous match in the semifinal of the UEFA Cup. The referee had been paid off by an Anderlecht official, something that only came to light 13 years later.
  • In the 2006 Italian football scandal where Juventus was forcefully relegated, many referees, among them Italy's referee representative for the 2006 world cup, were found to be involved.
  • In 2005, a match fixing scandal erupted in Germany, where the referee Robert Hoyzer, admitted to having fixed a number of matches, notably a cup match between Hamburger SV and Paderborn, where the former, leading 2-0, had its best striker red-carded and two doubtful penalties against them, made them lose the match 2-4. The scandal had connections to gambling.
  • In the 1994 VA-OM scandal, where Olympique Marseille were forcefully relegated, it was proved that players had been bought. Nothing was directly proved about referees, but the extent of Olympique Marseille's corruption and match-fixing was enormous.
  • In 1995, Dynamo Kiev was suspended from the Champions League after approaching a referee in trying to bribe him.
This is just what is known, and what I can immediately think of.
I can also think of a number of matches I have seen throughout my life where, looking at the broader picture, I suspect foul play; this includes a number of World Cup and European club matches.
While I think it happens more often than we think, I don't believe there is a wider conspiracy deciding the outcomes of the leagues, but rather, I think it happens on match-by-match basis, but I also believe that UEFA and the national football associations are not to keen to study the incidences too much, in order not to bring the game into disrepute. Whatever is done, is done quietly, and only selected few instances get out.
But finally, I do think it is naive to believe that in a sport that moves millions and millions of Euros, it is bound not to happen! Fortunately, I do believe it is the exception rather than the rule.

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