MISSING THE POINT: Malian referee probably got it right

ALL of Africa is basking in the glory of the magnificently successful World Cup tournament that concluded last Sunday in South Africa. Everyone seems to agree the venues were splendid and the people involved in staging the event were friendly and helpful, and there has been plenty of praise for Ghana who made it through to the quarterfinals, Bafana Bafana who gave it their all and Ivory Coast who were extremely unlucky not to progress through the ‘group of death’ which included Brazil and Portugal.
Unfortunately, however, no one is talking about the quality of the three African referees who officiated at the tournament – mainly because most commentators think Koman Coulibaly of Mali screwed up when he ruled out a legitimate goal that would have given the USA victory over Slovenia – and I think that is a terrible shame because the silence implies black African refs may not be up to world standards.
I do not agree, and as a white boy from the States who was backing his home nation all the way in the competition I feel particularly well placed to comment on this topic. You see, I think South Africa’s Jerome Damon and Eddy Maillet from the Seychelles were top notch refs and, believe it or not, I believe the much maligned Mr Coulibaly may have been one of the best officials in the entire tournament. I do not have nearly such a high opinion of the reporters, commentators and the experts at SuperSport, all of whom seem to have missed the point completely on that disputed, ruled-out goal.
While the post game analysts were harping on about what I agree was a perfectly good free-kick goal, I was sitting in front of my TV waiting to see a replay of the incident that led up to the set-piece.
As I recall, the foul was given after US striker Jozy Altidore fell over near the right sideline, and I suspect the free kick was awarded to the States by the linesman who would have been standing nearby.
I say ‘suspect’ because the replay was never shown and as far as I can tell no one has ever questioned if the foul should have been given in the fi rst place. One thing I do know is that the muscular
striker went to ground far to easily throughout the competition, as did teammate Clint Dempsey, and I strongly suspect Coulibaly thought Altidore had dived and the free-kick was wrongly awarded so he decided to right the perceived wrong.
That would explain why he blew his whistle as soon as the free kick was taken. And even if there was a foul I don’t mind when refs don’t give cereal divers the benefit of the doubt. Now, the Malian referee could have overruled the call right away but instead he chose not to make his assistant look bad and he waited for the kick to be taken before giving possession back to Slovenia, which I believe is what most good officials would have done. It was just incredibly unfortunate for him that the ball wound up in the net and that none of the USA players committed a foul on the play. Usually there
are three of four to choose from by either team on any given set-piece.
In my book, Coulibaly’s performance was far superior to that of Howard Webb who refereed the fi nal match. As you may recall, the Englishman allowed play to continue when Dutch winger Arjen Robben stayed on his feet and continued toward goal after being fouled by Spanish defender Carlos Puyol, and then he sent off Johnny Heitinga – effectively handing the World Cup to Spain – because Xavi collapsed under the pressure of the Dutch defender’s pinkie. Webb’s performance encourages deceit, Coulibaly’s doesn’t.
Perhaps fair play carries more weight in Africa than it does in Europe; perhaps not, either way I think Africa should be proud of the entire 2010 World Cup, including the performances of her referees.