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Referees, fans weigh in on FIFA meeting

By Alex Thomas, CNN
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Changing football's referees
  • FIFA has called an emergency meeting tomorrow in Cape Town
  • Expected to approve a plan for five-referee matches
  • Referees groups disappointed referee has been criticized
  • FIFA
  • World Cup Soccer

London, England (CNN) -- It's an extraordinary meeting to discuss an extraordinary incident.

FIFA, football's governing body, has called an emergency meeting Wednesday in Cape Town, during which many commentators expect it to approve a plan to have five referees at every match at next summer's World Cup finals.

Football's governing body had to act after the global gasp that followed Thierry Henry's blatant handball during France's play-off victory over Ireland. The win put France through to the finals and left Ireland feeling cheated.

FIFA has already allowed such an experiment in this season's Europa League, where an extra official stands to the left of each goal mouth. In the Henry match, they would have been right in front of the handball.

Referees' groups are disappointed the match official has been criticized as much as Henry.

"It's all very well to blame the ref for not spotting it but fundamentally it starts with the players and the players have really got to think about the game, think about the reputation of the game and their own reputations and say, look, there is a line we won't cross," said Alan Leighton from Prospect, the UK referees' union.

Leighton said that recently in China and Thailand, "referees have been attacked by players during games, with one referee breaking a finger and needing 50 stitches in Thailand. In China, one referee was chased by a player, pushed to the ground and narrowly avoided a beating."

Football referees seem to be under more scrutiny than ever before.

"It's become quicker," said Leighton. "There's more money in it. The stakes are much higher and, therefore, that all adds to the pressure."

Many referees say they would welcome more help to make decisions but unlike American football, cricket or rugby, soccer bosses are refusing to use TV technology.

"There has been a lot of calls for video evidence to be used, technology to be used," said Gary Mabbutt, the former England and Tottenham Hotspur defender. "I am not a great believer in that because if you are playing at White Hart Lane [Tottenham Hotspur's home ground] on a Wednesday afternoon in mid-December, it is snowing, it is minus two degrees, and you've got to wait around for someone sitting in a nice warm box to make a decision. I think it could slow down the game and I think it could effect it overall."

Fans say they've seen plenty over the years that referees have missed.

"I've been in plenty of football grounds when I am 100 yards away from the action and I can see something clearly that has happened that the referee has missed and you sometimes wonder," said Kevin Miles, from the Football Supporters Federation. "But by the same token, I don't think there is anything that you can do about it after the game."

Miles said he thought the "referee's decision has got to stand otherwise if they start re-opening that France/Ireland game, I want that game in Argentina in '86 looked at again."

He is of course referring to Maradona's so-called "Hand of God" goal at the Mexico World Cup, probably the most infamous handball in football history.

23 years ago, most of the consternation focused on the player. Now, the spotlight is just as likely to fall on the referee.