Back in the day, when I was an NBA fan, I just got sick of watching the NBA because it was so obviously rigged. My friends made fun of me for it at the time, but of course it turns out that Tim Donaghy was a biased arbiter. I never did any statistical analysis, but it was so obvious to me that I quit watching the NBA, whereas I had formerly been a pretty big NBA fan.
I felt somewhat similarly after watching this game 7. Whether the refs were actually pulling a Tim Donaghy is beside the point: every call is a judgment call, especially on the block. The Lakers got every close call and the advantage of some missed calls. How can I be confident that the games were called fairly? I can’t really. So why would I watch? If I wanted that, I’d watch pro wrestling.
The World Cup, I would argue, has a similar problem. Football is relatively binary: a goal is scored or isn’t, so one mistake can decide the game: a penalty call, an offsides, a red card, etc. Basketball is the opposite: 45 field goals per team are regularly scored, so a single call is way less relatively important. On the other hand, each call is very subjective.
We have more evidence that football is not a farce. Referees are evaluated stringently, and almost all domestic leagues run a round-robin style league, which greatly decreases the importance of any given call. However, most countries also run a Cup at the same time, usually stylistically similar to the World Cup. I haven’t run any statistical analysis, but the results of these Cups seem to be intuitively similar to what one would expect given how the team performed in the domestic league.
Still, I would argue that the football should reform its rules to ensure that the players decide who wins the World Cup, not the refs. Offsides calls should be evaluated with video replay. Balls crossing the goal line or not doesn’t happen often, but that should be reviewable as well. The penalty + red card rule should be carefully considered (I have no problem with it in the original context: outside the penalty area, the last man intentionally fouls to avoid a breakaway…that should be an automatic red). Although it is not traditional, the yellow and red card structure is archaic and should be reformed.
Perhaps only changing the card structure is truly a large reform: at least another card should be added and the penalties carefully evaluated for what incentives are given.
As a final note, unlike the NBA finals, this year’s World Cup finals have been excellently refereed as of now. In particular, the linesman have done an excellent job with offsides. I am frequently the first to criticize referees, so I want to be the first to praise them. World Cup refs: job well done!