The FA need to revisit their rules for retroactive punishment

Ian Walton

Sergio Aguero can't be punished for his stomp on David Luiz because Chris Foy saw it and didn't deem it to be a red card offense. Why?

In the days of the Roman Republic, a fascinating system was used to ensure that elected officials would be able to govern effectively without giving them the ability to violate the constitution on a whim. When in power, the consuls were untouchable, but after their year in office -- and there was a one-term consecutive limit -- they could be prosecuted by their political opponents for any crimes committed.

In the contentious period of the first century BC, when factional politics split the Senate and allowed for the usurpation of the Republic, this led to some amusing scenes, with leaders as illustrious as Julius Caesar fleeing Italy for years while simultaneously trying to seek election as consul in order to regain constitutional immunity. Even as the Mediterranean world's most powerful figures were seeking to undermine their own government, they were still being held accountable for their actions via psuedo-exile or criminal prosecution.

Accountability was a key feature of the pre-imperial Roman government, and the traditions of the Republic have been passed on to us in the modern world via the political philosophers of the past few centuries. We live, by and large, in a world where arbitrary, unlimited power is frowned upon.

Unfortunately, the FA has decided to opt out of living on the same planet as the rest of the human race. Their representatives not only have the ability to change games at their discretion, but their decisions -- even the blatantly and factually incorrect -- are more or less unchallengable once the match ends. This has led to some odd incidents. Callum McMannaman faced no punishment from the FA after his horror tackle on Massadio Haidara and, more recently, Sergio Aguero managed to get away with his violent and slightly perverted stamp on Chelsea defender David Luiz on Sunday.

Both incidents were unreviewable because the referee -- Mark Halsey for McMannaman and Chris Foy in Aguero's case -- saw the incidents and decided that they were not red card-worthy offences, an opinion that simply doesn't hold when exposed to replays of the challenges in question. Granted, referees don't have the benefit of multiple camera angles or super-slow motion replays, and mistakes will happen as a result, but the fact remains that in both cases the failure to hand out a lengthy ban to either player represented a grave miscarriage of justice.

Ensuring that the referee's decisions remain beyond reproach does make some degree of sense. It would be impossible to manage the game effectively if the referee's work was not law, and an argument can be made that the rules are in fact too liberal with respect to the dissent directed at match officials by players and coaches. But that rationale falls apart in a post match review.

In order to uphold the referee's initial decision on an incident no matter what, the FA has to believe one of two things: That evidence that a mistake was made is irrelevant or that it would cripple a referee's in-game authority. The first position is self-evidently ridiculous, and there's nothing to suggest that repeatedly endorsing mistakes is helping the referees do their jobs better. In fact, the opposite is almost certainly true.

Beyond the public relations hit the FA and their employees endure when a tackle like McMannaman's is ignored, allowing bad refereeing to go unpunished (and no, hiding the referees in question in the lower leagues for a week is not punishment) means that there's very little incentive to get better at refereeing. In football, players are constantly rewarded for good play and penalised for mistakes by winning or losing games, reinforcing good habits and punishing bad ones.

Players, in other words, are accountable for their play, and make adjustments in order to improve. Meanwhile, blunder-prone referees are the target of disdain from viewers but are allowed to continue their careers as though nothing is amiss. Mistakes are acceptable; an institutional refusal to learn from those mistakes is not.

The FA needs to seriously look at revising its rules in the summer. Fans can tolerate a certain number of refereeing errors in a season if they believe that justice will eventually be done, but at present there's absolutely no reason to believe that that's the case. If a mistake is made, under the current rules, it's probably a mistake forever. There's no good that comes out of keeping things that way.

Should referees wield ultimate power on the pitch? Of course. But when their term of office is over, the FA -- English football's overseeing body -- should be more concerned with doing justice and ensuring accountability than protecting its employees. Football would be far, far better if it followed Rome's ancient example.

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