Match officials more often than not play a thankless role, whether controlling a kids' game of soccer, netball or cricket or in the spotlight of international sport. By and large, they set out to be the adjunct or bit player contributing to the game without, it must be hoped, hankering for the limelight.

Or do they?

Too often, and possibly more these days in the face of increasing television coverage and the often intrusive cameras, there is the feeling that some referees or umpires think it is all about them and by blowing a whistle they happily attract the attention away from the very people they should be serving - the players.

Billy Bowden, in his early days on the ICC panel at least, gave the impression that, yes, it is about me and the more flamboyant I am, the more attention I will attract. Sad really as the players who came up through the ranks of domestic cricket rated Bowden purely because more often than not he got the crucial decisions right. He didn't need to step over that line.


Steve Walsh went through the same in his earlier days yet how refreshing it was when, as recently as last Friday night, he put up his hand after his blooper in the Blues v Sharks game to admit "I got it wrong, sorry." Great. At least he admitted that he is not infallible. The same can't be said for other officials.

But, again, his admission begs the question that why, if the technology is available, isn't it used to assist the referee? Players aren't vociferous in their appeals without reason. A quick check could save embarrassment.

What would English referee Martin Atkinson give to have had some help before awarding Juan Mata's goal that wasn't for Chelsea against Tottenham Hotspur in this week's FA Cup semifinal. That goal, and there was no evidence the ball ever crossed the line, stretched Chelsea's lead to 2-0 three minutes into the second half. While Spurs got one back soon after the bad call had been made, it forced a tactical change and eventual 5-1 loss.

Netball suffers from another angle. There is no way television match officials could ever intervene in a game played at pace and constantly plagued by the whistle and whining calls from umpires who too often appear to have no feel for the game. That they can dish out nearly 140 penalties in 60 minutes of netball suggests either they, or the players, don't have a handle on what they are trying to achieve or that the rules need looking at.

Recent ASB Premiership soccer matches have again served to underline the breakdown between players and coaches and match officials.

Through the formative and later years of the old National League there were just as many issues involving referees and players. Some referees made the step up to the-then higher level and contributed to the success of what at, in 1970, was a breakthrough for New Zealand sport, which until that point had been the domain of clubs and club-based local competition.

The National League was spread across New Zealand. Playing standards improved to the extent of playing a major part in getting the All Whites to the 1982 World Cup.

There were soccer referees at the time who could not accept the new league was more about players than them and officiated accordingly. "More whistle is better" seemed to be their mantra.

Others, like John Cameron, Gary Fleet and later Brian Precious and Bruce Grimshaw were regarded universally as the best because they had the man-management skills to do what was required. They would hand out as many cards in a season as referees these days flash in a match.

The system in New Zealand, for too long the domain of referee development manager Ken Wallace, who had little or no feel for the game, needs a drastic overhaul.

Fifa's mandate that man-management skills must improve is a step in that direction.

That a referee appointed to the "desk job" as a fourth official can influence the match referee in having a player sent off, as happened to Canterbury United's Darren White in Sunday's win over Waitakere United, was a disgrace.

Then, realising he had made such a poor call, referee Matt Conger decided to even the count five minutes later by sending-off Waitakere's Tim Myers for what Canterbury coach Keith Braithwaite described as a fair and legitimate header.

Fifa rules are clear. The referee has "the authority to decide on all points connected with play". There is nothing in that to suggest the fourth official has the right to pat his pocket to indicate a red card.

Worse though, the referees are assessed, or now "coached", by former referees who seem happy to encourage the same mediocrity.

Little wonder the players are getting frustrated and the public turning their back on the game here despite it still being far and away the world's most popular sport.