It’s easy to feel like the referees are out to get your team – especially at the Olympics, where home countries of both players and officials are clearly acknowledged, but a shared nationality doesn’t outweigh integrity, jugdement, and years of training. These are the best players and (hopefully, though referee Paul Stewart disagrees) the best officials from each country. They’re at the games to represent their respective countries by excelling in their roles. As much as they want to see their home countries win, these guys are professionals.
That said, even the best referees aren’t perfect. There will always be missed calls, blown calls, and quick whistles. Many of these officials don’t regularly work in front of crowds this large, and that’s not even counting the millions of eyes watching from homes around the world – armed with DVRs to replay and review (and question) each and every call they make.
Adam Proteau of The Hockey News offered up some great thoughts this morning on international officiating:
At the ’72 Summit Series, the Canadians were convinced referee Josef Kompalla had it out for them and threatened not to play the final game of the two-team showdown if the German officiated it. A bureaucratic showdown ensued, but and Kompalla wound up as one of the two referees for the game despite Canada’s serious reservations. But rather than sulking and/or leaving the rink under protest, the Canadians used their loathing of Kompalla as a rallying point and wound up winning that game.
Similarly, when the Canadian women’s team at the 2002 Games were on the wrong end of eight consecutive penalties called by American referee Stacey Livingston in the gold medal final, they easily could have sat back and allowed the injustice to be the story of that game. But Team Canada knew the small solace found in the shade of an excuse isn’t the hallmark of a winner. And the women of that team went on to beat the U.S., anyway.
Those teams used officiating issues as a rallying point, not as an excuse.
Proteau also questions the alternative. The Olympic officials are chosen from the best referees and linesmen in the world – half from the NHL and half from various IIHF countries and leagues. These are among the officials who’ve seen the most action, shown the most consistency and accuracy in their calls, and have extensive experience. There are none better.
There are no hockey officials on the planet who can do the job better than the ones already doing it. They’re never going to be perfect, because this is a subjectively perceived game and the human element always will be a factor. Video replay might help in certain instances, but again, those who would be placed in charge of video replay also happen to be human. If they didn’t make a decision a certain fan base agreed with, would they be part of the conspiracy, too?
Intelligent fans realize that officiating will never be perfect, but that it’s always getting better. The referees, though, always make a nice, conveient scapegoat when your team doesn’t win.
The idea that something is nefarious is easier to digest than the notion their team isn’t as good as they believe it to be. And for my money, excuse-making and finger-pointing isn’t the spirit of the Olympics. All that does is tarnish, diminish and distract from the achievements of those who do excel at the Games.