Did Champions League referees get their positioning wrong!?

We were glued to our TV sets this past Wednesday and Thursday watching the Champions League matches between Barcelona v. Bayern Leverkusen and AC Milan v. Arsenal. However, as referees and not just simply fans of the game, we could not help but notice the positioning of the additional assistant referees in those matches. The additional assistant referees in both of these games were positioned on that side of the goal that was nearer to the assistant referee. This immediately struck us as a rather curious positioning.

Consider that FIFA’s August 28, 2009 statement about the additional assistant referees expressly stated that they “will be positioned on the opposite side of the goal to the assistant referee or to the left when viewed from the centre circle.” (See the picture on above.) The memo further explained that “this set-up has been chosen to provide the widest possible coverage of the penalty area by match officials (referee, assistant referees and additional assistant referees).” On June 2, 2010, FIFA and IFAB agreed to extend the additional assistant referee experiment to March 2012. In the accompanying Additional Assistant Referees Experiment Protocol, IFAB stated that “the additional assistant referees’ position will be behind the goal line to the left of each goal (looking from the centre mark).” In short, IFAB reiterated its original guidance on the positioning of the additional assistant referees.

However, at its 125th Annual General Meeting which took place in Wales on March 5, 2011, IFAB decided to approve “the proposal to move the AAR’s [Additional Assistant Referee’s] position from left to right.” (See the picture below.) Well, one thing is therefore crystal clear: the officiating crews in the Champion League matches got their positioning right!

Nevertheless, we are of the opinion that this newly approved positioning is actually inferior to the originally employed system. Indeed, we agree with FIFA’s original reasoning that the original set-up provided for the greatest coverage of the penalty area by the officiating crew. In the old set-up, the assistant referee had the best view of the penalty area to the right when viewed from the centre circle, the additional assistant referee had the best view of the penalty area to the left when viewed from the centre circle and the referee had a panoramic view of the entire penalty area. What’s more, in that set-up, the additional assistant referee’s and the assistant referee’s spheres of control or their responsibilities over the penalty area were clearly defined (one had the right side and the other the left sidel). The old system also did not allow for any possibility that the additional assistant referee would obstruct the assistant referee’s view.

Unlike the old system, the newly approved positioning can result in the additional assistant referee obstructing the assistant referee’s view. This is especially prone to occur during the corner kicks. During the corner kicks the assistant referees are positioned on the end lines as are the additional assistant referees. Because the additional assistant referee is positioned on the same side of the goal as the assistant referee, he cannot help but to obstruct the assistant referee’s view. Importantly too, the additional assistant referee does not face the assistant referee, resulting in a breakdown of eye-to-eye contact/communication between the two officials. The eye-to-eye contact is critical for a proper functioning of the officiating crew – especially on the plays in the penalty area. Finally, the newly approved positioning may result in the assistant referee and the additional assistant referee signaling and/or making conflicting decisions because they both cover and have responsibility over the same part of the penalty area.

The additional assistant referee testing continues but we believe that, as currently employed, the positioning of the additional assistant referee is simply wrong. Let us know what you think.

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