Insults: the Israeli way of building confidence
Salman believes that demoting the referee to a lower league would restore his confidence, in other words, that confidence is restored by a punishment.
1. Referee Eitan Shmuelevitch was demoted to the National League. He was punished by the professional committee of the referee's association following his mistakes in the game between Maccabi Haifa and Ashdod S.C. The association's chairman, Ben-Zion Salman, summed up: "The object is to restore his confidence."
In order to fully understand the absurdity of the man who heads the committee, one must try to understand his logic. Salman believes that demoting the referee to a lower league would restore his confidence, or, in other words, that confidence is restored to anyone who makes a mistake by a punishment that implies he isn't worthy of functioning at the highest levels, that frankly, he just isn't good enough. Salman probably believes insults strengthen a person's spirit. This isn't an absurd way of thinking. Salman is no French existentialist. It is simply primitive thinking.
Generally speaking, the attitude concerning referees in Israel is based on a primitive line of thought. Any mistake is cause for endless badmouthing by the pack of hagglers that have taken over the media, especially TV. Following their lead, and with their image in mind, the professional committee is quick to sacrifice the most convenient victims - the referees. This is an age-old pathology.
Shmuelevitch missed a penalty in favor of Maccabi Haifa in its loss to Ashdod. The game was broadcast by Meir Einstein with Nir Levin as the commentator. In real time, Einstein believed Shmuelevitch got the decision right. After the replays, Levin argued that it was a penalty, and Einstein concurred. ("This time I must agree with you." ) The fact that in real time neither thought the ref made the wrong call actually proves his mistake was legitimate. And yes, there is such a thing as a "legitimate mistake." The rule must be clear: If replays are needed to determine what really occurred in a split second, the referee isn't guilty. A mistake doesn't make one guilty.
2. On Monday Night Football, the Green Bay Packers should have won the game. The Packers played in Seattle and were leading 12-7 until the last second. The Seahawks' quarterback threw a Hail Mary into the end zone, and an unidentified pair of hands caught the ball. Two referees were quick to get to the area and one of them raised his hands, signaling a touchdown. Seattle players began celebrating, while the Packers refused to accept the verdict.
As opposed to soccer, football referees can watch replays, and that's what they did. At the same time, TV pundits determined that a Seattle player committed an infraction during the play, and that furthermore the ball was caught by a Green Bay defender. No touchdown, according to the pundits. The referees - replacement refs, one must add, since the NFL locked out regular referees in June after their contract expired - returned from watching the video and decided: touchdown. Seattle won 14-12.
This is a classic example of a truly miserable decision, since the referees had all the conditions needed to reach a correct decision: time and electronic means. If Shmuelevitch had the chance to see the replay in the Haifa-Ashdod game, he probably would have called a penalty. Since he didn't have such an opportunity, he's innocent as long as he called what he saw, which in this case was exactly what Einstein saw before he had access to the replays.
3. The fact that soccer authorities still don't allow electronic devices to aid referees implies a wish, albeit an unconscious one, that mistakes will happen. This actually does make sense: Mistakes are one of the most important features adding drama to sports. When a mistake is made, especially a crucial one that affects the outcome, the shock waves are enormous. The sense that the outcome should have been different, and that a miscarriage of justice has been committed, are negative shock waves, but in sports these shock waves equal interest. Positive or negative, they're "good" for the sport, and Maradona's famous "hand of God" goal is a pertinent example.
Still, in Israel, these shock waves go beyond "good" or "bad," "positive" or "negative," and are immediately transformed into "violent." This violence is best expressed by simplistic and often plain silly statements. Thus, for example, "He's paid not to make mistakes," as uttered by Ron Koffman on the Sports Channel. This argument is the epitome of the shallowness of Israeli sports journalism. It assumes that if a person earns money doing a certain job, he isn't supposed to make mistakes. It also assumes that the number of mistakes made has something to do with the amount earned. For NIS 2,000 a game, Shmuelevitch is allowed to err three times. For NIS 3,000 a game, he's allowed only one mistake.
Koffman, as most of his colleagues in the weekly violent demonstration that is the Sports Channel's "Press Stand" show - apart from Shlomo Scharf, who admirably stood up for the refs - aren't willing to accept that sports inherently includes mistakes, and that the only criterion referees should be subject to is integrity. A referee should do his utmost to be at the best position at all times to make the right call. In a nutshell, that's his job. The call itself might be wrong, because human beings make mistakes, notwithstanding how much they're paid. People make mistakes because they are human. That's how it is.