With the addition of two extra officials for the tournament and the new task of monitoring incidents of racism during matches, referees at the Euro 2012 have attracted more attention than usual.
For the first time at a senior international tournament, UEFA are employing two additional assistant referees - one at each end line - to assist head referees near the goal at the Euro 2012. The extra officials have been employed since 2009 in the Europa League and since 2010 in the Champions League.
"They're giving me judgment on important situations in and around the penalty area, from angles I could never hope to get as a match official, as a referee on the field of play," said Euro 2012 referee Howard Webb, who officiated the 2010 World Cup and Champions League Finals.
Though the end line officials are not allowed to signal fouls, they can communicate verbally with the head referee. Their presence alone can positively influence game play, said UEFA Chief Refereeing Officer Pierluigi Collina, who also officiated the 2002 World Cup Final between Brazil and Germany. "[The] extra official is a very important deterrent for holding and pulling."
Nonetheless, their limited role at the tournament makes their impact thus far difficult to evaluate. "When a linesman holds up his flag we know that he has made a decision, but these guys don't have the benefit of announcing every decision with their 'wand,' as the majority of their work is done by word of mouth, rather than actions," said Simon McPolin, editor of Debatable Decisions, a website covering refereeing during the Euro 2012, in an interview with DW.
Germany's controversial representative
A relatively unproven group of referees has been chosen for the Euro 2012. Only four of the 12 have previous major tournament experience. Included in that group is Germany's Wolfgang Stark, who was a referee at the 2010 World Cup and is no stranger to officiating controversies.
Germany's Wolfgang Stark officiating at the 2010 World Cup
At the 2007 Under-20 World Cup in Toronto, he officiated a match between Chile and Argentina that included seven yellow cards, two red cards, and 50 fouls. After the game, he was escorted off the pitch under police protection.
In 2011, Stark officiated the Champions League semifinal between Real Madrid and Barcelona. He controversially gave Madrid defender Pepe a red card and sent Manager José Mourinho to the stands in a 2-0 victory for Barcelona at the Bernabeu. "Stark and Messi leave Madrid having to make a miracle in the second leg," wrote Madrid's Marca newspaper after the match.
Most recently Stark oversaw the relegation playoff match between Hertha Berlin and Fortuna Düsseldorf that decided the final spot in next season's Bundesliga. In stoppage time the game had to be temporarily abandoned for 20 minutes as fans stormed the pitch. Stark later brought the players out of the locker rooms to finish the final 90 seconds.
According to German sports magazine Kicker, in a player's poll taken after the first half of this year's Bundesliga season, Stark was voted the league's worst referee. To his credit, he won the League's best referee award in 2010.
Despite a perceived penchant for controversy, UEFA considers Stark one of its top referees. He has been an international referee since 1999, and was an official at both the 2008 Summer Olympics and the 2010 World Cup.
The referee evaluation blog Ref Marks calls Stark a lenient but strict referee. "He allows hard football and has a lenient line, but if it becomes intense, especially when his authority is undermined by protests, he does not hesitate to book players," Ref Marks told DW.
Stark's performance thus far at this summer's tournament has been received positively. He officiated Poland's heated match against Russia on Tuesday. "The scenes outside the stadium and the rivalry between the two sides meant that there was potential for things to flare up during the game, but he kept things moving and kept his cards in his pocket," said McPolin.
Extra attention on racial abuse
Due to concerns that racial abuse of players might become a problem for visiting players in the tournament host nations of Poland and Ukraine, refs have also been drawn into the sensitive subject.
Before the tournament began, the Dutch team complained of racist chants during their public training session in Krakow last Wednesday. Though UEFA initially did not acknowledge the chants as being racist, they changed tune the on Friday, saying in a statement that they have "been made aware that there were some isolated incidents of racist chanting that occurred at the open training sessions of the Dutch team."
Last month, Italian striker Mario Balotelli threatened to walk off the pitch if he felt he was the subject of racial insult. UEFA President Michel Platini announced that, per the rules of the game, any player who walked off the pitch would receive a yellow card. He added that it was up to the referees, who UEFA are calling their "17th team of the tournament," to decide when to end a match.
McPolin, though, believes the onus for dealing with racial abuse should fall on UEFA, not referees. He said UEFA have "passed the buck in terms of dealing with potential issues with fan racism and the conversation about games being abandoned shouldn't even be happening."
McPolin added that the job of the referee is to control the game being played on the field, not in the stands. "I think it's unfair to burden referees with that responsibility and fan abuse is something that should be dealt with by stadium officials, security and police," he said.
Author: David Raish
Editor: Matt Zuvela