Mexico vs Panama
Featured also at Cardinal Publishers Group, July 2015
The raucous affair that was Mexico vs. Panama in the Gold Cup Semi Final turned into an all-out bizarre spectacle. First, a player from Panama was ejected when his arm “accidentally” made contact with his opponent’s face. It was a very questionable red card. A yellow card – one hundred percent. The replay showed the player’s arm definitely making contact – as they were contesting a ball in the air – but the intent of the glancing touch seemed unintentional. To say the Panamanian players were upset is an understatement. The ejected player would not leave the field for close to ten minutes. The crowd was throwing projectiles at him, one after the other. The game was halted, the referee was verbally harassed, and physically touched. This is a no-no in sports, across the board. No one is allowed to touch the referee, particularly in anger. A pat on the back for a good call is not out of the question. It’s the acrimonious touching – prodding the chest with an outstretched finger, pushing from behind, grabbing an arm – that is disallowed. The NBA, NHL, NFL and even baseball prohibit such a thing. In baseball coaches get creative. During a disputed call it is the coach's job, and responsibility, to get as close to the umpire as possible, without actually touching him. He often resorts to kicking dirt at the umpire’s shins. This is completely normal, but laying hands on him, ugh-uh. That’s the line one cannot cross. If they do, they get ejected and likely suspended with a fine.
Panama was hell-bent on showing their distaste for the head official. It seemed to linger on as a continuous blur, as the Panamanian players and coaches stopped the game outright, protesting calls by the referee. Some players approached the Mexican coach, pleaded their case with him, as though that might somehow change the situation. All of these antics became even more pronounced right at the end of the game. Playing with one man down, Panama miraculously had the lead, on their way to the final match, when the referee gave a crucial, and debatable, penalty kick to Mexico. No one knew when the game would start again. The announcers were considering what would happen if Panama left the field. Possibly the game would have to resume the following day with an empty stadium? Somehow, everything resumed and Mexico scored the tying penalty kick.
Finally, in extra time, another penalty kick was awarded to Mexico. This one was a true “take down.” Mexico went on to win 2-1, watching on as the game ended and the Panamanian bench bum-rushed the referee, charging toward him at center-field, getting in his face, taunting him. Large security men had to push the potential mob out of the way, escorting the referees off the field.
The larger issue is something has to be done by CONCACAF and FIFA. The game was held at the Georgia Dome, in Atlanta. The two teams took over the affair. The referees were powerless at times, hoping the Panamanian players would resume their place on the field. The bottom line is, you can’t touch a referee. It was an out of control barnacle of misbehavior. The players, coaches and fans were producing a scene contemptuous of authority, doing everything short of a full-on riot. How can CONCACAF and FIFA control the fans throwing projectiles? How can they punish players and coaches that lay hands on referees? Multiple suspensions should be placed, with multiple fines. Security has to be more active with fan control, and, with aiding officials in a game when things get out of hand. The question of when things get out of hand is subject to debate, but when a full team is swarming a ref, disrespecting his authority and the image of the game, whether his call was right or not, this is a moment when FIFA might initiate security on the field. Teams cannot take over a game. You can't touch the ref. Just like you can't touch a policeman. You don't get mad at a cop, point your finger in his chest multiple times, telling him off and expect to avoid getting arrested. You might not like a cop. You might not agree with a cop. The law is respected for good reason: It eliminates chaos and anarchy in the streets. Cops might be wrong at times, but they have a role that is essential in society. They're there to keep order. The rule is you cannot lay your hands on them. Within the framework of sports, referees represent the law. Sports are indicative of the way we carry ourselves in society. Pushing referees, or pointing your finger into their chest, or spitting in their face is unacceptable, even if they're bad refs. Note to FIFA and CONCACAF: study this game as reference for a future precedent.