It has been less than 72 hours since the ill-tempered Super Cup clash between Jamshedpur FC and FC Goa that saw both sides reduced to eight men each after a half-time fracas in the tunnel between both sets of players.
While player scuffles and sending offs are never a pretty sight in football, those were nowhere close to being the biggest talking points from the match. The incident which had led to the half-time melee had left players, officials and viewers equally dumbfounded, if not more.
It all started with a woeful finish from Goa’s star forward Ferran Corominas who could only get a faint touch to Brandon Fernandes’ low cross. As the ball stumbled along towards the goal-line, Jamshedpur custodian Subrata Paul managed to just about prevent it from crossing over and he pushed it out of touch.
Even though the ball had gone out, Brandon, who had continued his run, pulled it back and smashed it into an empty net. The referee, Venkatesh R, had no hesitation in awarding Goa the goal even as Jamshedpur’s players protested in disbelief.
As he tried his best to placate the Jamshedpur players one by one, the referee seemed to indicate that the decision was final and was going to stand. Then, even as the protests raged on, the referee decided to have a belated discussion with his linesman after almost two minutes had passed since the awarding of the goal.
That begs the question as to why the main official did not seek this consultation straight away during the time of the incident. What is even more baffling was that the linesman had not signalled for a goal-kick after the incident which indicated that the linesman was in agreement with the referee.
As the referee and the linesman gathered for a discussion, they seemed to be consulting a third figure through their communication pieces. That third figure was presumably the referee assessor Sankar Komaleeswaran who has access to the televised proceedings. It must be noted Sankar is the only Indian referee to have officiated in a FIFA World Cup.
Soon enough, the decision was reversed even as the referee made an arm signal of having arrived at it through the help of television replays. It was the correct decision after all but one which had been arrived at through heaps of controversy.
It was a mirror image from another Super Cup clash less than 24 hours before between Mohun Bagan and Shillong Lajong. There too, Bagan’s second goal scored by Nikhil Kadam had been soaked in controversy.
After Kadam’s rocket of a strike had bounced off the crossbar over the goal-line and back, the same scenario had followed. The referee, Santhosh Kumar, had indicated no goal as play continued for another minute or so before it was halted to reverse the decision after some consultations with the linesman and probably the referee’s assessor. One must note that Santhosh Kumar is a FIFA referee from India and the assessor for this match was also Sankar Komaleeswaran.
Both the incidents would have been much less controversial if the referee had decided to seek the linesman’s opinion straight away instead of waiting for almost two minutes to pass. The right decision was made ultimately in both the cases but they arrived rather late, and probably through dubious means.
If a third figure can make the correct decision through the help of television replays, why is the entire football world even debating the need of VAR (Video Assistant Referee)? Surely it would make sense to just let an official with access to television replays to relay the right decision to the referee on the pitch?
With those two decisions, the referees in the Super Cup have set a precedent, and a dangerous one at that. By showing their willingness to overturn a decision through the help of the referee’s assessor and television replays, they have opened up a can of worms they might not be able to contain.
With the semi-finals and finals of the Super Cup still to come, the referees are bound to be under the spotlight anytime a big decision is needed. With the precedent being set already, teams will be well within their rights to demand for a rethink of a decision when they deem fit because surely the law has to be same for all.
Every contentious decision is bound to become a flashpoint given the protocol that has been set. For a competition already reeling from indifference and apathy from most ISL clubs, the last thing the Super Cup needed was another controversy.
That has come now, and it has mostly to do with the incompetence of the referees in Indian football and their failure to follow the correct protocol. They have dug their own grave through those two decisions and it could very well come back and haunt them unless a clear protocol is laid out by the AIFF.
The AIFF Disciplinary Committee is currently investigating the refereeing blunder in the Jamshedpur-Goa controversy and appropriate decision could be taken after the tournament.