In defence of referees

Why is it that, in controversial sporting contests, it is invariably the referee who gets the blame and almost never the players? Last night's World Cup match between Portugal and Holland saw four players, two from each side, receive red cards from Russian referee Valentin Ivanov. In the aftermath, FIFA chief Sepp Blatter (hardly a man of great integrity) said, "I consider the referee was not at the same level as the participants, the players. I think there could have been a yellow card for the referee," whilst Holland coach Marco van Basten claimed, "the referee made a mess of this game."

They should watch the match again, and consider each decision on its merits. As far as I can remember, pretty much every yellow (and red) card dished out by Ivanov was absolutely warranted. There was play-acting by members of both teams, and some players who were not dismissed can consider themselves very lucky. Throughout the game there were poor tackles, cynical fouls, stupid incidents of petulance and dissent, and the referee tried to clamp down on them by issuing bookings. Instead the players' poor behaviour escalated, until it was inevitable that a sending off would occur. Four red cards is ridiculous, but the blame lies solely at the feet of the competitors and their shocking self-discipline, not the arbitrator who struggled valiantly to keep the game under control.