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How do you referee an Olympic-level soccer game? Our expert answers your questions

Norwegian referee Cristina Pedersen ruled Canadian goalkeeper Erin Mcleod  had violated FIFA's six second rule which resulted in a controversial call and eventual equalizing goal by the United States in Monday's women's Olympic semi-final.

Armando Franca/The Associated Press

Canada's women's soccer team is criticizing some of the controversial calls made by the referee in their semi-final loss against the United States on Monday.

What is it like to referee a high-level soccer game, and what are the pressures you face? How do some of the high-level rules work?

We've tapped an expert to take your questions. Hector Vergara is the executive director of the Manitoba Soccer Association and sits on the FIFA referees' committee. He was born in Chile, grew up in Winnipeg and played soccer competitively for 10 years. He has decades of experience as a referee, including officiating at the 2004 semi-final match at the Athens Games and three FIFA World Cups (2002, 2006 and 2010).

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Mr. Vergara can't comment on any specifics of the Canada and U.S. match, but can speak to being a referee at the Olympic and World Cup levels.

Update, Wednesday: Here are some of your questions answered.

Hank: When will soccer accept the use of state-of-the-art video technologies to ensure correct decisions are being made on the field?

Mr. Vergara: FIFA has been pretty direct in indicating that video technology will only be used as goal line technology to determine if a ball has crossed the goal line, between the posts and underneath the crossbar. It would be very difficult to determine for what decisions replay would be used and also television angles have proven to be wrong or not have the right angle on many occasions in the past. Cost for most national associations would also be a huge challenge as it would be very expensive and most would not be able to afford it.

Hugh Hyndman: If the referee makes the call for time wasting, isn't there a yellow card shown as well? Is the kick taken at the place the keeper (and ball) were at the time the whistle was blown?

There is no caution for the goalkeeper controlling the ball in his hands for more than six seconds. It is simply an indirect free kick from where the offence occurred.

Malcolm Nanji: What is the role of linesmen in policing a game? Can they alert the ref to something they have witnessed? For that matter, can the referee overrule a linesman on an off-side call?

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The Assistant Referee has a number of specific duties in the match, but also may assist the referee in controlling the match in accordance with the Laws of the Game. One of those specific duties includes to inform the Referee when misconduct or any other incident occurs out of the view of the Referee.

The Referee has the ultimate authority in a match and may overrule the Assistant Referee in any situation, including calling an offside. This would happen if the Referee feels that he has a better view of the incident.

Jonathan Allan: The Olympic Games are a political event. Athletes and the games themselves are funded by countries with nationalist goals at the heart of their investments. Nations indeed seek to increase the value of their identity. The Games and athletes are also funded in the billions of dollars by corporate brands, hoping to find that their identity associations can provide a strong ROI in image. I want to know to what degree is pressure received to see a desired outcome, whether pressure is openly blatant, or merely implied requests through associated individuals?

The pressure that referees feel is from the mere importance of matches, the media, the fans, etc. This is the same pressure that players and coaches have to do well in games. In my 19 years at the highest level, I have not seen pressure put on referees to see a desired outcome at Olympics or FIFA competitions. As has been well documented, there have been blatant incidents in national leagues in different countries that have involved leagues, teams, coaches, players and referees, but I have not seen this at Olympics or FIFA competitions.

Morgan Miller: I know consistency been a problem throughout the tournament. Are referees debriefed on a game-to-game basis as well as performance reviews to ensure top quality reffing throughout tournaments such as this and during qualifying matches?

Yes, referees have debriefs and the performances are reviewed throughout the competitions. Referees are also assessed at every match of this magnitude, including qualification tournaments. There is ongoing evaluation, review, education, assistance and practical training for referees to continue to improve on every performance.

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Blair: How does refereeing a high-profile game with very high-profile players affect decisions made on the pitch? I ask because I've noticed that the refs seem to be giving much more deference to the star players in the Olympics, certainly much more than I would see in a league match?

Referees are taught to referee everyone fairly and equally. All players are treated with the same respect and protection for their safety. There may be a perception that some are being treated differently but if that is the perception it is not because of any directed or intentional action by the referees. There is a view that player safety is important and their skills should be protected for the benefit of the game, players and fans alike.

Richard Kendon: Why doesn't soccer use two referees as in ice hockey?

The concept of two referees in a match has been tried before and it did not work well. The experiment yielded more inconsistency than we currently see.

Linda Geary: Do refs have an impartial body or panel they can seek advice from if they are contacted and pressured to deliver more than "just the game?" Who is their support group and how reliable are they? And without naming names, were you ever contacted to help muddy up a game intentionally, or do you believe such dirty play is very rare?

Yes, referees are guided by a set of very experienced instructors and assessors, many of whom have been FIFA referees and have lived the life of the referee. There is also a referees committee and a referee assistance program that works to improve refereeing at every level in every country in the world. These groups are available all the time for the referees and they are present at every FIFA/Olympic competition. They are part of those providing the debriefs for the referees after every match.

I was never contacted to "muddy up a game intentionally." There have been documented events that in some countries this has happened at the national league level but not at an Olympic or FIFA competition.

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About the Author
Assistant editor, Ottawa

Chris Hannay is assistant editor in The Globe's Ottawa bureau and author of the daily Politics newsletter. Previously, he was The Globe and Mail's digital politics editor, community editor for news and sports (working with social media and digital engagement) and a homepage editor. More


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