Losing a game hurts. If it is a Super Bowl loss, the pain is intolerable. Even at the doorsteps of the new NFL season, the 49ers are still licking their wounds from 2019. It is obvious how frustrating the experience is. But can we point the blame toward the referees when the topic is up for debate?
We should not go back to the drawing board to analyze that game. Instead, let's discuss whether referees robbed the game.
Refereeing is a thankless job. Only the mistakes get highlighted. That referee is there to do a job, and they have a responsibility to fulfill. So do the coaches and players, who have to execute well if they want to win games. The 49ers had multiple opportunities to win the Super Bowl on their own. The crucial mistakes in execution and play-calling cost them the game.
As I followed numerous Rugby games in Sri Lanka, one usual chant from the crowd was " Referee Hora." The translation of that is the referee is a cheater. I have seen spectators abusing the referees verbally, at times throwing objects onto the field. There are situations where the referee had to be escorted securely.
It is easy to make the referees the scapegoat. When the stakes are high, demand for the highest standard increases. But can we expect error-free refereeing in sports?
It is not just common for football. Soccer, rugby, and cricket are a few classic examples. Cricket and soccer have resolved many issues around officiating with the use of technology and updated protocols. Rugby, which has many similarities to football, has the same experience when it comes to refereeing.
The nature of sports does not allow you to do that. In computing, everything is binary. It is either one or zero; there is nothing in between. However much we try to write the rule book with precision, interpretation can vary depending on the individual who makes the decision.
The interpretation differs from one referee to another. That is the problem we should address. The referee must make sure if George Kittle is penalized for offensive pass interference, a similar play from Travis Kelce must be officiated in the same way.
The problem is most of these fans have never tried to officiate a game, even at a junior level. If you have ever done that, you will know how difficult it is to make split-second decisions just by yourself. I once volunteered to officiate a field hockey inter-squad practice match. That day I found refereeing is not fun; one of my college teammates was kind enough to throw a filthy verbal rant at me.
At last, we should not forget that referees are human too. That is why any major sporting event appoints the best and experienced officials in the final stages. Teams must be provided with an official platform to discuss officiating. The culture of scrutinizing referees needs to stop.