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Saturday, October 23, 2021 Leer en Español

What Soccer Referees Can Teach Us about Politics and Government

A referee with superpowers and without limitations will never grant justice.

Image Credit: iStock-LightFieldStudios

I think that if there is something we can all agree on is that we do not like it when a referee wants to be the protagonist in a soccer match; obviously at the time of a match each one has his team, but we do not expect the referee to make up 5 penalties in our favor and omit the fouls of our team to win. What we all aspire to is a fair game, that our team plays better and the referee simply points out the fouls to avoid injustices.

Regardless of the context, the referee should never be a player who influences the result, much less an almighty God who before the match can determine who will go to the next round or be crowned champion, otherwise, the game would lose all its essence and the sport would fall apart. Something similar happens in real life and in politics, and strangely, unlike soccer, many people end up voting for injustices to be committed.

The Referee as a Player

Let’s suppose that a World Cup final match goes 1-1, the referee has already given away a penalty to team “A”, and has omitted twenty fouls against team “B”, and tired of his team not achieving the expected result, he intercepts the ball and shoots at the goal to score against team “B” which is later crowned champion. Will anyone agree with this action? I doubt it, but then why do we tolerate it on a daily basis in our society?

The referee, like the State, should not be just another player in society, because the referee by its nature has extraordinary powers with the ability to move the balance from one side to the other in an unfair and disproportionate way. If the referee also assumes the role of player in the economy, the principle of fairness and competition is completely distorted, the rest of the players — society — becomes demotivated since in order to win it is not enough to have more talent, to practice and work harder, but to have the favor of the referee. This immediately begins to destroy competitiveness, effort and efficiency, and when these values are distorted the game is corrupted, and with it its level goes to the floor. In soccer this would only bring about the decadence of the sport, but in real life this has worse consequences: repression, famine, totalitarianism, and death.

The Referee as God

The referee as a player is bad enough, but if on top of that he pretends to become a supreme being, as it happens in states where politicians, besides intervening in the game, want to dictate all the guidelines of society, the matter becomes much worse.

If you were to put Guardiola’s Barcelona with Messi at his best against a team from the fourth division of Venezuela, no matter how much the referee tries to “play” and interfere in the game, Barcelona would always win. To avoid this, more serious actions would be needed to alter the result.

Suppose the referee starts taxing Barcelona players for every goal they score — they have to pay 50 % of their salary for every goal they score — and on top of that, before shooting at the goal they have to stop and do 30 push-ups, only then their score would go up. Does this sound like a fair thing to do?

Well, in real life it happens all the time, governments instead of encouraging and rewarding the best players — entrepreneurs and companies that create jobs and resources for the nation — they punish them, and on top of that, they demonize them. In a large number of countries, we hear politicians speak ill of the rich and their fortunes, treating them as pariahs, as criminals, for the simple fact of being successful. Then they impose a lot of taxes and bureaucratic burdens on them so that they can continue to compete, while paving the way for the teams that make it easier for them to remain in power, and what is worse, they call it “social justice.”

Imagine if Messi had to pay 50 % of his salary and do 30 push-ups before shooting, would he still have the same scoring efficiency? Would he be motivated to continue being the best player in the world? Or would he simply prefer to retire from the sport with his wealth and stop being productive for society?

Now let’s look at the other side. Let’s suppose that the referee, far from being satisfied with the obstacles put in Barcelona’s way, arranges for the Venezuelan fourth division team to play on an inclined field so that they can run more easily, enlarges the size of their goal ten times, and also eliminates the figure of the goalkeeper in the Catalan team. Now the match could definitely be more disputed, but will it be fairer? And will this really lead to a better spectacle? Will this create better conditions for the development of sport? Will this be a fairer society?

The Referee as a Referee

It is evident that soccer referees, and also society’s referees, already have sufficiently broad powers to influence the outcome of sport and life, and it is precisely for that very reason that their powers must be limited, otherwise, they could destroy the essence of sport and of society itself.

The reason why a referee cannot take sides is that this automatically distorts the whole situation and automatically creates injustices that are difficult to overcome.

Obviously in soccer when a referee takes sides the consequence is seen in the outcome of the game. But when this happens in real life it is much worse: companies close, people lose their jobs, economies collapse, food disappears, people die of hunger and disease, and the majority of society suffers, while the only ones who smile are the referees and their closest friends.

The role of the State should be limited to acting as a referee in the disputes that may exist in civil society as a result of free and healthy competition. It should make decisions that do not alter the nature of human and business interactions, and never exercise power as if it were just another player, much less as an all-powerful God, because it is there where injustice would become law.

The power of the referees should be limited to a regulation that prevents fouls, corruption, and crimes that can be committed by one over the other but should never be expanded, since giving more power to power will always end in some form of totalitarianism.

If you enjoy good soccer, or any other sport, get excited when you see new talents emerge, admire free and honest competition, and enjoy competitiveness, you should support the same for society, for yourself and your children. Supporting the opposite is simply to vote to give another man the ability to destroy the lives of some, to ingratiate himself with others as he pleases.

A referee with superpowers and without limitations will never grant justice, all he will be able to provide is decisions based on his whims, which always results in totalitarianism, and I tell you that I lived it in Venezuela for 20 years. Totalitarianism is never healthy, fair, or pleasant.

This El American article was republished with permission.

  • Emmanuel Rincón is a lawyer, writer, novelist and essayist. He has won several international literary awards. He is Editor-at-large at El American