Over at the Sports Economist Brian has a post with three recommendations to improve international soccer: post-match review and penalties for diving and melodrama, more granularity in penalties around the penalty box, and two more officials on the field. I chuckled when Brian referred to “Sepp Blatter and the FIFAcrats who seem to have a secret love of Italian theater”, with which I heartily agree; FIFA seems incredibly uninclined to do anything constructive to change the incentives facing players or referees.
As for the player incentives, Brian links to an article about Franz Beckenbauer’s efforts to “to stop the increasing trend towards play-acting and feigning injury which has blighted matches at the World Cup”. Brian’s suggestion of having an allegedly injured player spend, say, 5 minutes off the pitch when a trainer is called out is a good one. It is similar in incentive compatibility to the policy that the KP Spouse and I have advocated for years in the NHL: if you lay an illegal check on someone that puts them out of play for 5 games, you sit out those 5 games. Without pay.
The referee incentives FIFA presents I find utterly perplexing. They said they would call tackling from behind and shirt grabbing more closely than ever this year, but in practice they called lots of fouls where there was no apparent foul, and handed out yellow cards for calls that would otherwise usually be just fouls. And then FIFA rewards the most inconsistent referees by letting them ref subsequent games! I thought Jorge Larrionda deserved to be sent home after the US-Italy game, but he officiated the France-Portugal game! And he called that one totally differently from how he called US-Italy.
An article in today’s Wall Street Journal highlights some of these inconsistencies:
In this summer’s World Cup, however, it’s not clear that all the pros are playing by the same rules. Before the tournament, FIFA instructed officials to issue yellow cards for certain types of fouls, such as tackles from behind and shirt-grabbing. The organization even sent videotapes to teams warning of harsher treatment for those infractions.
But after a flood of players had to sit out games in the tournament’s first two weeks, FIFA began sending mixed messages. Joseph “Sepp” Blatter, FIFA’s president, complained that some refs weren’t enforcing the new guidelines. At the same time, refs involved in controversial calls were rewarded with assignments to work later rounds. Uruguayan official Jorge Larrionda, who ejected three players in the U.S.-Italy game and issued 13 yellow cards in three games, was selected to officiate Wednesday’s semifinal between France and Portugal. “It’s tough because you have to balance what FIFA has said with the issue of kicking players out of the game,” says American ref Brian Hall, who worked the 2002 World Cup and now officiates in Major League Soccer.
In the same article, a FIFA official is quoted as opposing video review of calls:
FIFA’s main objection: Reviewing disputed calls would compromise the sacrosanct “flow” of a match. “The fluidity and the rhythm of the game are so important,” says Esse Baharmast, director of international referee training for the U.S. Soccer Federation, who’s been a referee trainer and assessor for FIFA in Germany. “The game is played by humans and should be reffed by humans.”
These FIFA guys failing to ask the “compared to what?” opportunity cost question. All of these silly fouls and ridiculous yellow cards, and the dive/injury melodrama, eviscerate the flow of the match. The threat of video review should provide a contestability-like dynamic incentive to induce more measured officiating, as well as less player melodrama.