Containers Gain Fans: From Finance to Entertainment Worlds

Containers Gain Fans: From Finance to Entertainment Worlds

In the last several years, the hype surrounding containers has grown, but so has their usage. At th…
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LGBT Entertainment Shines With Announcement of Golden Globes Nominations

There’s much LGBT representation in the nominations, announced today. The nominations for the 73rd …
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Friday Focus: are referees really the A-League’s new ‘entertainment facilitators’

W hat word would you use to describe an A-League referee? Simmer down at the back, this is a serious question. Official? Timekeeper? How about facilitator? That’s the description FFA director of referees Ben Wilson uses most frequently in conversation with Guardian Australia as he addresses an A-League season that’s placing unprecedented demands on the men in black to facilitate entertainment. “There’s been a significant increase in the number of fouls and consequently the number of yellow cards this year,” Wilson notes. “I think I saw a statistic that indicated it was a 27% increase, which would probably sound about right.” Unsurprisingly, this upsurge in interruptions has at times impacted on the competition’s aesthetic. According to Wilson, “this has come about from teams changing their playing style and their tactics more than any specific directives we’ve given to referees.” The tactical adjustment reflects the growing emphasis on transition. The benefits of transitioning quickly from defence to attack are obvious. By slingshotting up the field at speed the opposition is off guard, the defence is less likely to outnumber the attack and there is space to exploit around and behind defensive lines. As attacking transition gains prominence, defensive responses necessarily follow suit. The immediate objective is to nip attacks in the bud before they penetrate deep into dangerous territory, by whatever means necessary. An innocuous looking foul around halfway may have significant strategic importance, but its location means the likely penalty for the offender is an insignificant disincentive. “We spoke about this in the pre-season,” Wilson explains. “Tactical fouls in the centre third or players delaying the restart in the centre third and that was a focus of the pre-season visits to clubs and the presentations we made to them. “We spoke to referees a lot about the entertainment aspect of the league and their role in facilitating an entertaining game. We can only officiate the match that comes before us and if teams are intent on committing those fouls in transition then we don’t have much choice but to blow the whistle.” Last month’s grim 0-0 draw between Sydney FC and Wellington Phoenix is a case in point. “Foul after foul disrupted the rhythm of play,” according to the match report of the stalemate. “Little discernible quality,” and “ugliness” featured in Fairfax’s account. “After the Sydney FC versus Wellington Phoenix match I sent out a note to all of our referees to reinforce our agreed approach to refereeing this season and to urge them to deal with this tactical fouling,” Wilson said. “That was sent out to clubs as well so they’re aware of our stance and that additional information has been given to referees as to how to handle those types of matches.” That kind of additional information can be seen in another prominent example from earlier in the season. There may have been some sour grapes behind John Aloisi’s charge of anti-football against Melbourne City following their 1-1 draw at Suncorp Stadium, but the refereeing team on the ground were aware of City’s strategy and did what they could to keep the game moving. “The team of referees work together to identify specific players that may be targeted by the opposition. If there’s a key player on one team and the opponents are taking it in turn to foul them then we want to stamp that out.” A Venn diagram showing the overlap between Melbourne City fouls, challenges on Thomas Broich and yellow cards issued would support Wilson’s assertion. “FFA is focussed on entertainment and the A-League being an entertaining product for fans,” says Wilson. “Referees have a role to play. We try to facilitate an entertaining game by not penalising trivial fouls if we can let the game flow and play advantage where we can, and be strong and take action against players who are preventing entertainment by deliberate or tactical fouls.” His next point is salient, and one sure to raise the eyebrow of a supporter or two. “The referees understand football and they’re much happier if they can be involved in a match that’s entertaining and has as little involvement from them as possible. They take no pleasure in having to be the centre of attention if they can avoid it.” But what can referees do to improve the spectacle without the cooperation of players and coaches? Wilson explains: “To reinforce our expectations at the start of the match with the captains that there’s a big audience watching. That we’re going to be tougher on the fouls that aren’t really football fouls, the holding, the tactical fouls in transition. And that we’re identifying players that are persistently infringing. “If that isn’t working we want to make a public show of action and grabbing the two captains and letting them know they’re ruining the game and to get them to stop fouling and having us caution players left right and centre.” The sight of referees engaging with players mid-pitch is an increasing and welcome one. A-League referees have not enjoyed personable reputations and regardless of the veracity, stories such as Ben Williams’s run-in with Nick Hegarty are all too believable. “Plenty of people feel that referees are difficult to talk to,” Wilson responds candidly. “We have been trying to address that in a number of cases, but in some ways it’s difficult to coach personality. Body language is key to refereeing. You can convey a lot with a frown or a smile or a strong signal or a relaxed body stance. All we can do is play our roles and speak to players on match day and try to influence them as best we can but ultimately the coaches are responsible for the style their teams play.” Reference to coaches in this context is important as the perception of a match and specifically the performance of a referee can be shaped quickly by a strong opinion in the immediate aftermath of a contest. Aloisi’s anti-football soundbite for example. Or Graham Arnold nominating Steve Corica to satisfy Sydney FC’s media obligations following the Phoenix draw. “He’s a little bit frustrated with how things went and a few of the decisions that were made,” Corica told the press. “There were a lot throughout the game he was frustrated with. The amount of fouls that we gave away, maybe a couple of penalty calls didn’t go our way. I thought they were a bit harsh.” Coaches will speak into a range of microphones in the minutes after the final whistle. The referee, often by now the subject of public criticism, will likely face none. It may be in their interest to find one. “Fox Sports is working with FFA. They want to see referees publicly discuss contentious decisions after games and we’ve moved to enable that,” reveals Wilson. “Our full time referees especially have had media training and they’re prepared and ready to answer questions from commentators on the ground after the match and potentially on camera. There hasn’t been too much at this stage because Fox Sports don’t want to make it a show about refereeing decisions so they’re using it fairly judiciously…but we don’t want the narrative of the weekend to be all about refereeing and referee decisions.” It would be difficult in such circumstances for Chris Beath, the Sydney versus Wellington referee, to articulate his reasoning for each of the 43 fouls he identified, but his interpretation of the mood of the game and the mindset of the players would add plenty to the debate. Although as Wilson remarks knowingly, “A good round is where there’s as little discussion as possible about refereeing decisions. If matches have been played and people haven’t noticed the referee, that’s good for us.” For the good of the competition, a few rounds of A-League referees passing unnoticed would not go amiss.
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