Goldsmiths University, BA Design, Ethics & Sustainability

Essay by

Julio Cesar Salguero Rodas


Intro: Strangers of Injustice

In this essay, I want to examine unethical spectacles in our post-modern society. I will try to this by examining a particular social aspect of society, that of football culture, the focus point will be the role of referees and how their profession affects the experience and consumption of the event within this culture. On one hand, the aim is to argue that there needs to be a more ethical treatment of the roles that match officials play within football, by understanding that their current situation has not allowed them to become the personification of justice, instead they are to most ‘strangers of injustice’.

For the first part, I will look back in history to specific events where an incorrect decision was made, this will somewhat offer a partial explanation to why referees are hated with so much passion. I will then move to what the situation is in the modern game, exploring all aspects that might have an influence on the future of their role, from the political, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental. The next section provides possible interventions or solutions for the future of the game and it will also include what the consequences of such solutions are.

On the other hand, the goal is also to argue that we need a more conscious ethical consuming society paraphrasing Stephen Duncombe “The people who participate in the performance of the spectacle must also contribute to its construction as opposed to the spectacles of commercialism and fascism, the public in an ethical spectacle is not considered a stage prop, but a co-producer and a co-director”. In this sense, I will be arguing that the referee as a member of the people who participates in the performance needs to have a broader participation in other aspects of the game than just only making sure that the rules of the game are protected and followed. The point of the essay is to show that we need a more ethical approach to this issue but it is also aware that it is one small aspect inside a web of complexities of our football culture and for that matter, life in the city and our society as a whole.

Perhaps in one of the most politically dense matches in football and in one of the greatest football displays from an individual, quoting Jimmy Burns ‘Maradona leads Argentina to victory in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, beating West Germany 3-2 in the final, but not before scoring one of the most talked about ‘goals’ in the history of the game: the famous ‘Hand of God’ goal against England (He scored the goal with his hand, but the referee did not notice; After the match a journalist interviewed him and he justs said that was the hand of god which scored the goal).’

Part One – Memories of Football Culture

Bin Nasser (center), Docthev (right) It was June 22, 1986, when the lives of two of the officials officiating the match between Argentina vs England changed, Ali Bin Nasser (the referee) from Tunisia and Bogdan Dotchev, his assistant from Bulgaria. In an article from the Guardian Dotchev’s future didn’t turn out to be the best, ‘Instead of staying involved in football he preferred to avoid the city and start a new life in a small village. “Never mind the reaction of the foreign media, the biggest insults I received back then were from Bulgarians. Some even called me a national traitor,” Dotchev said with bitterness. Ali Bin Nasser continues to referee football matches but that was his last appearance in an International Tournament. This event showed one of the problems in the game (officials were not a lowed to talk to each other during a match), and will later change the rules for officials to allowed them to talk to each other whenever there was doubt about a situation.

During the World Cup of 2010 in South Africa, England and Germany met at the knock out stage round of 16, the match was marked by a controversial referee decision. Germany was leading 2-1 and just before half-time a shot from Frank Lampard hit the cross-bar of the German goal, the ball ricocheted past the goal line and bounced back into play. The ball clearly has gone over the line, for most, it was an easy decision, Germany 2-2 England. However, the referee Jorge Larrionda took no action and allow the game to continue. The Uruguayan trio of officials was not chosen to referee for the final stages of the competition but continued their careers.

Pablo Fandino ( left ) Jorge Larrionda (center), Mauricio Espinoza (Right), many English fans felt the injustice of this decision with the exception of the Germans, and a lot of conversation and discussions continue to happen post-match. This event will have changed the future of the game when in the World Cup of 2014 in Japan saw the introduction of Goal-Line Technology. Both of these cases show the influence a referee and his assistants have in the game. The impact they cause is not remembered through their good and right decisions they have made in the games have been in, but rather their names are attached to those particular events were there was some kind of injustice made. The role of a referee is hit by immense back-clash, they are screamed at by footballers, booed by the fans and bullied by the media. Moreover, the public image, the role and their uniform become also connected with these instances of injustice that travel through time to the contemporary game.



Part 2- The Modern city and the Beautiful Game

For the duration of a long football season, every match day becomes the center of conversation for those football fanatics. Different manifestations of a football culture appear within the city, at home with the TV, at the local pub having a drink, the monetary thrill of betting stores, 10 miles trips in the tube, the chanting inside the stadium, and for ninety minutes plus injury time, everyone watches the game. The final whistle decides the result, to which on particular occasions, fans wearing the defeated jerseys, angry managers on the losing side, tired highly-priced football players and disappointed billionaire owners, condemn the performance of referees. The rights and wrongs of whistle-blowers are judged by everyone extending to the next morning onto the back pages of every newspaper. These officials are supposed to protect the rules of the game which are bound with no exception to be broken by the players.

Yet from one point of view it seems they are the rule-breakers, it might not be that they purposely act to do so, instead, it is their human limitations which lead to their wrong decisions. These issues pose the question to everyone, are referees part of the Beautiful Game? and should we keep these decisions happening in the game or should we look for other alternatives which might end up getting rid of referees altogether?


Goal-line technology (GLT)

Goal-line technology (GLT) was a point of debate since other sports such as tennis and rugby had made use of similar technology and overall benefitted the nature of the game. However, there were many concerns for the traditionalist of football including the effect of slowing the play down and adding extra complexities to a simple and universal way of play. One of the main concerns was the view that it would too undermine the referee’s authority and decision making, for it would be one less decision the referee had to make.

As of now, GLT is used in the top-flight competitions of Europe and in FIFA World Cup tournaments. GLT was the first form of technology introduced. For the many who do not embrace this invasion, an invasion that is only of benefit to broadcasters and the fans as it adds another extra layer of content, in one sense it creates a path for new-forms of technology that could be introduced for other elements of the game like red cards, handballs, or off-sides and theoretically it would be possible to enforce all the rules with some sort of technological development.

Vanishing spray

Although having been used at club level tournaments in Brazil and Argentina in early years of the 21st Century. The vanishing spray made its debut on the World stage in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. In theory, the aim is to prevent players from getting an advantage when a free kick was awarded, it allowed referees to enforce the law of the game (that required the defending players to be 10 yards of distance from the ball) more effectively. The introduction was more welcomed than GLT, as there were a clear difference and significance for the role of referees. In a research document Kolbinger & Link (2016) state: ‘Devices that support the referee in their decision making, devices that replace the referee for certain decisions and devices that help them to enforce the rules of a sport. The vanishing spray in soccer belongs to the latter category’. As such the Vanishing Spray is considered a device of fairness and fair play. One of the difficulties with their use is that there has been a lack of effectiveness and the results have been very minimal.



There are many records in history about the political importance of Sports, spectacles such as the Olympic Games are perhaps the most political of them all. In football, specially those who govern the laws such as FIFA have been accused of corruption. Russia and Qatar were chosen as the next hosts for the two upcoming World Cup Competitions and many doubt whether this decision was done fairly without economic influences. Something else that affected more directly Football Officials, which caused controversy was the document that FIFA released for the Regulations of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Section 10 of this document states that:

Continental Neutrality describes the paragraph above. The decision took hold, FIFA’s justification for this new rule was that of providing more protection to the officials from external social pressures or being accused of decision-biased or cultural influence. In Contrary, others see this as a poor decision for the game because it means that top referees of the highest quality might not end up choosing, simply so that geopolitics a re-avoided.


Social abuse, Social pressure in-game decision making.

In Wolfson & Neave 2007: 237, the highly rated reason for involvement in refereeing was that of a “The Love of Football.” and those relating to an intrinsic devotion to football. This is of course in contradiction to how any fan, player or coach will see it from their point of view, their understanding of the motivations behind a referee’s decisions is that e.g. the referee has power, he is in control or he is consciously making decisions against our team.

‘Referees experience unrestrained negative feedback throughout and after a match. England Premiership referee stated, “Almost every time you blow the whistle, you upset half the players and at least half the crowd”. Match officials directly and indirectly impact the game in one form or another, a game that is intrinsically social. The referee’s direct link with fairness is well perceived by others, it is because of the difficulty of consistently making accurate decisions in short amounts of time and sustaining it for the duration of a whole match that referees are faced by abuse. This pattern is true across all level s of football; physical abuse, however, is more likely to happen at the grassroots level.

Every Year the IFAB (The International Football Association Board) publishes a Document called “Laws of the Game”. These are all the rules that concern the nature of how football is played universally. Among this document 2 sections are dedicated to Referees and Match Officials, Law 5: The Referee and Law 6: The Other Match Officials. Combined they make up 16 pages of information containing every aspect of their role and performance. Point 5 under Law 5 describes ‘Referee signals’ which is graphically shown below.

The FA which is the body that governs football in England launched The FA’s Respect programme which is aimed at preserving, and ensuring a positive environment exists that allows football to be played in at the grassroots level all the way up to elite competitions. Among this campaign, there is the Match Officials: Respect Code of Conduct which states how an official needs to behave so as to promote high standards of behaviour in the game.


Part 3 – More Love Towards Whistle-blowers Won’t Kill the Game.

The harsh treatment of referees needs to be simultaneously tackled by all participants of the game at every level, professional, semi-pro and grassroots. Match officials, however, need to be the trigger for a change and they have to make the first step towards a need for wider inclusion in football. Football referees, therefore, have to become more involved in all of the other aspects of the game from visiting training grounds and getting to know the players, they will be officiating the match in the following week. In an Article from the BBC English Rugby union’s top referee Wayne Barnes states “So we have that relationship and get the opportunity to work with the players so they understand us as a human being, not just as a referee”, “When I go onto a pitch I already know those players; I already know those coaches.

So it ‘s easier with those relationships to have that mutual respect on the field.” Football is most certainly lacking in regards to Mr Barnes statement. This will not change until the rules of the game published by Football governmental bodies allow for referees to become more participatory. The current situation the IFAB (which is constituted by the FA and FIFA) encourages is that of restriction, seclusion and independence, rather than promoting openness, inclusion and interdependence (At least for the referee’s role). Creating a communal relationship with players is key as opposed to simply having a public role relationship(Miles 2010; 15).

In addition to the above paragraph, there is also a need to represent this through the“Laws of the Game’. Although as expansive as the document is, there is not one section anywhere dedicated to the Ethics of the Game. It is for this reason that the images below show what an Ethical Code might look like if implemented to the Laws of the Game. The design and content of this universal ethical code are done in reflection to the FA Respect campaign which contains Codes of conduct for all participants (1. Young Players 2. Adult Players 3. Match officials 4. Spectators, 5. Coaches, Team Managers & Clubs).


Part 4 – A Grain of Sand In the Desert Or A Leave Of Grass In The Stadium.

Whether the possible solution suggested in regards to what match officials can do to elevate their role in the game comes into effect or not will definitely be affected by many external aspects ranging from the economic, legal and to the social, and many personal and internal issues that lied beyond this essay. As one example, it will be very hard to see match officials at grassroots levels, spend more time beyond match days communicating with teams and clubs. This is not just a time issue but also the low economic return they get for their effort at this level. Having said that, at the professional level this can definitely be done where referees are working full-time, also how the efforts of professional referees to create a change become disseminated in the media is of high importance given that young football players are highly influenced by those at top of the game.

The Introduction of an Ethical code into the Laws of the Games has as its only goal the creation of a more ethical aware public or participant of a football culture. It is difficult to see how this could affect the Game in a negative manner.





The hand of God _The_hand_of_God.pdf

Jimmy Burns

Goal line technology

Referees – Hand of God



Laws of the Game

Elite football referees



Social pressure on referees

Goal line technology

Video technology!/news/first-use-of-video-review-at-fifa-club-world-cup-explained

Wayne Barnes

FA Respect Programme

Steven Miles, Spaces for Consumption (2007)

Gordon Thomson, The Man in Black (1998)

Howard Webb, The man in the Middle (2016)


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