The soccer World Cup is nearly finished, so I need to try and add some posts to my much-maligned cricket-is-not-soccer series. This tournament has featured a number of umpiring controversies (goals not noticed; offside players not flagged; fouls and handballs misjudged). This has all fed the forces baying for a video review in soccer, a debate that replicates the one on-and-off in cricket (most recently flared up by the Sri Lanka-India fracas about the upcoming Test series).
But there’s a big difference between the soccer discussion and the cricket one: players often treat the referees like absolute shit. They swear openly at the them when they disagree — even for decisions that are clearly correct — and, in cases that are not so clear-cut, they argue vociferously even after the referee has made his call (or card, or whatever). Knowing this, it’s an absolute wonder video reviews have not yet been introduced in the game to supplement referees’ authority.
But in cricket, umpires may be reviled or even considered dopes in certain situations (recall the tragedy of Steve Bucknor, India v. Australia), but on the field, they cannot, must not, should not be questioned. Here, cricket and soccer depart and for a number of reasons.
First, the stakes of an error in soccer and cricket are somewhat different. In low-scoring soccer, a referee’s decision can condemn a team to defeat or lead it to victory. In cricket, while umpire’s decisions obviously do matter (again, see Steve Bucknor, India v. Australia), he would have to make several bad calls for a game to be completely thrown. (That’s because you have 10 wickets to get, and countless runs to be scored, giving each team player a chance to rectify a bad decision. In soccer, one goal can make all the difference.)
Secondly, cricket has that whole “spirit of the game” discourse, bequeathed from the stodgy Victorians who refuse to let go of modernity. Thirdly, cricket umpires have to regulate a lot more than soccer referees do — there are just more rules that can be broken. And since the umpire is only human, mistakes are bound to be made. Now, rather than throwing the game’s course into complete chaos, cricket creates a human Leviathan on the field instead, an absolute sovereign who, though human, cannot be questioned, lest all authority on the field be lost (and, Hobbesian followers will know, a long English Revolution will be had).
But all in all, I’d say cricket umpires do a much better job than their football colleagues. Sure, I’m basing this one on a very limited sample, but some of the errors that have occurred in this World Cup simply boggle the mind. Perhaps it helps to have an anchored umpire, rather than a roving one who has to keep up with the competition.