Photo by Associated Press.
Originally Published: July 4, 2016 11:02 p.m.
PARIS — No tantrums, no screaming and shouting, no condemnation by TV jury. No calls for them to be sent home and fired from their jobs.
What's gone wrong with referees at the European Championship?
Well, nothing. In fact, with just three games to play, everything's going right.
The referees' performances in the 48 games played so far in France have received top marks.
Soccer pundits have been forced to describe the action rather than berating the man in the middle and his assistants.
And there have been so many top performances by referees that UEFA will struggle to select the man to take charge of Sunday's final in Paris.
Will it be England's Mark Clattenburg, Germany's Felix Brych or Hungary's Viktor Kassai, all of whom have turned in impressive performances?
"Mark Clattenburg must have a great chance of that huge honor of taking the Champions League final and a major international final in the same season, now that the rules allow you to do so," said former FIFA referee Kim Milton Nielsen, writing on the "You are the Ref" refereeing website.
Clattenburg, who has not officiated since the round of 16, may fall victim to footballing politics, however, as might Brych. The German will not get the prestigious appointment if his country qualifies for the final, and Clattenburg, an Englishman, may endure the same fate if Wales — a close neighbor to England — beats Portugal to make the final.
Much of the credit for the improvement in standards has been given to Italian Pierluigi Collina, now in charge of UEFA referees. He is better known for being the best referee of his generation, using charisma rather than yellow and red cards to control games, and has helped develop elite match officials.
Referees put in charge of semifinals are rarely awarded the final. So Sweden's Jonas Eriksson, who will referee Wednesday's semifinal between Portugal and Wales, and Italy's Nicola Rizzoli, who will have the whistle for Germany vs. France in Marseille on Thursday, will probably head home after those games.
European soccer's ruling body UEFA is delighted that it has not had to defend referees from criticism that they are making incorrect decisions. TV technology that has introduced dozens of cameras to games highlighting every mistake has rarely caught mistakes this time round.
Refereeing experts put the improvement down to a UEFA program to improve refereeing.
Man management is often the most crucial aspect of a referee's performance. Referees have been noticeably calm and confident in France, without appearing arrogant or distant from players.
"The body language of the referees, often with an outstretched hand palm facing downwards, has remained calm and they have avoided conflict," said Keith Hackett, former head of English Premier League referees.
"There is no doubt that when you get those close up shots of referees during the course of the game they look calm and confident with no sign of any arrogance," he said.
Referees have also shown fitness levels that are better than they ever have been.
Players claiming a foul or a penalty are looking up to see the referee a few yards (meters) away and perfectly placed to rule on whether an offense has taken place.
"Dynamic sprinting" is the phrase used by modern referees. Before being approved for matches at the highest levels, referees have to be able to sprint as fast as, if not faster than, most players. That ability does not happen overnight and has been part of the referees' daily training for the past two years.
Players also have to take a bow.
In France, they have behaved better than in previous tournaments. There has been less cheating and a clear desire to play the game legally and at high speed, unlike in club soccer and previous tournaments that have been spoiled by petulance and attempts to deceive the referee.
The number of yellow cards awarded in France has not changed much. Four years ago, four yellow cards per game were awarded. In France the figure is 3.8 yellows, slightly down on 2012. Red cards are down sharply, from one every 10 games in 2012 to one every 16 games in 2016.