We would all agree that the ITV RWC commentary is rubbish, even worse than Stuart Barnes. Whilst watching the match, I’ve taken to listening to John Taylor and Brian Moore on TalkSport. Love him or hate him as a player, his analysis is informed and passionate. As far as referees are concerned the ‘informed’ element is only half baked. I know he has done the ELRA ref course but he hasn’t had pitch time and is lacking in continuous professional development.
His bug-bare for the World Cup is referees giving warning to captains after a number of penalties. “Is that a final warning, or what?”, “will the next penalty be a yellow or not?”. He believes the ref communication is not being specific enough. He is probably right, but that is the point, the referee doesn’t want to restrict himself. The sanction of a card is game management tool, the treat is as effective as its use. When to use a card isn’t always black and white, a succession of penalties in mid-field is not the same as one or two 10m out from the goal line. In this regard the referee does not want to make a promise it would be inappropriate to keep.
Lets consider after 20 mins, Blue are under the cosh, four to five penalties have been conceded and two successful kicks have been made. The ref is going to give an warning, if he makes it specific then he is duty bound to yellow card someone; what ever. Next thing, Blue are on the Red 5m line, attacking and there is crossing, a penalty offense, but the referee has ‘promised’ a YC, the Red captain is expecting but it is hardly fair. The open warning gives the referee flexibility to judge a suitable sanction; in this case, Red clear their lines with a kick. If Blue kill the ball 10m out from their own goal-line then the referee still has the option to go straight to his pocket.
Another case might involve what I think of as the time-fade of warnings. The same 20 mins from Blue and a warning from the ref. The warning works and Blue’s discipline improves, its 15 mins until they give away another mid-field offence, Red has concede two or three penalties in this time. Blue’s compliance with the warning is rewarded by no card, they’ve listened and co-operated. The card can still come if they revert to form but for the time being they retain 15 men. Again if the specific warning was issued then the Red captain will expect the card. If the offence is in the red-zone and/or is cynical or dangerous, then the ref still has the flexibility to go to his pocket.
Issuing specific, open ended threats of a card binds the referee and reduces his option for delivering a fair game for all players. The use of cards is always there for the referee but needs to be contextualised.