March 22, 2012

UEFA withdraws Matip's red card

Joel Matip (FC Schalke 04) had been sent off in the UEFA Europa League Round of 16 1st leg between FC Twente and FC Schalke 04 (1-0). Referee Craig Thomson from Scotland had issued the red card against the defender for an alleged professional foul on Twente's striker de Jong.
After Schalke had lost the match due to the wrongly awarded penalty as consequence, the responsibles of the German club entered a caveat at UEFA's arbitration court to abandon the mandatory minimum punishment of one match. UEFA rejected that. However, Schalke again raised an objection, so that UEFA decided to reschedule the negotiation after the 2nd leg which was won by Schalke (4-1).

Acquittal: Joel Matip may play for Schalke in 1/4 finals

Today, UEFA has announced that Matip will not be suspended for any match. A historical decision. Why?
One has to differ between an infringement made by the referee and a decision based on facts: while an infringement could mean that the referee e.g. issues a yellow card to the wrong player (cf. Wolfgang Stark in AC Milan - FC Barcelona) or sends a player off with the 2nd yellow card even though the player had not received a card before, a decision based on facts is - in accordance to FIFA statutes - final and inevitable. This has got plenty of reasons: According to FIFA, the referee is - along with his team - the sole decision maker, so that decisions that are obviously wrong have to be accepted though in order to avoid a lack of authority the officials have to pose. In addition to this, the regulations also clarify that this principle has to be applied in arbitration courts with regard to probable punishments and suspensions as well  (cf. Lauterbach, Kathrin, Universität Bayreuth, Veröffentlichung auf, p. 13 ff.; cf. FIFA Laws of the Game p.24 "Decisions of the Referee" (1)). 

The incident in Enschede was certainly no infringement conducted by referee Thomson, as he was correctly applying the Laws of the Game, however, he had bad luck that there was no contact.

With this decision, UEFA has proved that they have not lost common sense yet, however, that there is kind of decline of sense of right and wrong. 
Anyway, not every breach of rules automatically harms football..


  1. A very good and unexpected decision.

  2. Although this decision may appear fair in the specific case, I think it sets a dangerous precedent. I say this as a jurist, a referee and a person interested in football. What UEFA has done here, is undermining the principle that a decision of facts by the referee may not be changed. In order to say that the red card is wrong you need to say that there was no foul (otherwise the red card would have been perfectly correct). However, the decision whether there is a foul is in the final competence of the referee and not of any back-room commission sitting in an armchair. I want football to be decided on the pitch and therefore I am willing to accept that there may be occasional mistakes by a referee (although nobody likes that, of course).

    If you follow the precedent set by the Matip decision, you may ask a lot of follow-up questions: If there was no foul, why was the result allowed to stand (1-0 due to the resulting spot-kick)? Why should it not be possible to have yellow cards rescinded as well, as they may also lead to suspensions? Wouldn't it be tempting to free your suspended key player for an important game by tactically launching an appeal and profiting from the suspensive effect of the procedure? To be honest, I don't want to see any of that.

    In England, quite far reaching appeal procedures are possible. Does this result in more justice? Certainly not. Some suspensions are rescinded, others not. Nobody understands the practice of the competent commission and there is always a huge debate on who profits most/least from these armchair decisions. In the end, I am convinced that in the long run, such procedures will not bring more justice than having to accept the occasional mistake of a referee.

  3. You are absolutely right, the crucial thing is that UEFA said on Tuesday that there was a slight contact, but a contact. So they rejected Schalke's caveat. But now, there is no suspension. So the red card is wrong. So there was no contact. Today A, tomorrow B. Strange.
    Anyway, I think that UEFA thought a lot of how supporters see such decisions. How do you want to explain to a fan with passion for his club or for football in general that everyone sees that the decision is wrong, the penalty is converted which was wrong as well, but that there is nonetheless a suspension. If you then tell him: "Ah, that is because we must protect the authority of the referee!", he will laugh and it will cement the already apparent gap between supporters and referees. Fans want to see a Thomson, who declares in front of a TV camera that his team made a mistake and that he is sorry. Then everything is ok. But now. This will never be possible on UEFA level, I do not know whether it is good.
    In this case, as I have written in the post, UEFA is braking laws. One cannot justify injustice by another injustice, I however do not see a danger that soon we have discussions about scored goals. This was just the suspension, perhaps indirectly the foul and red card, too, but not the score or something like that.

    14 votes have been made in the poll to the question of whether one should withdraw red cards if they are resulting from obviously wrong decisions. The score was 8-6, this reinforces the controversial issue.

  4. And another thing, nothing to do with this issue: Eduardo Iturralde has announced his retirement after his season due to conflicts with RFEF after his injury in Primera División 2 weeks ago.
    Who could be the next Spanish FIFA ref? González González? Estrada Fernández? I think Del Cerro Grande makes a good job, too.


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