The J-League is on a downward spiral since it’s inception with crowd numbers dropping, and the general level of interest dropping as Japanese players move overseas and interest in these leagues increases.
There are always little boosts to crowd numbers around the World Cup, but the J-League is still aware that they need to try and do more to make numbers higher.
They have done this by trying to bring in high profile players like Diego Forlan, and by trying to reach out to countries in SE Asia by going on tours to these countries and making rules to allow players from these countries to come to clubs on top of the 4 foreigners already allowed.
None of it will mean anything while the standard of refereeing is so poor.
I left both games this week feeling like I couldn’t be bothered to go and watch another game. That is someone who hasn’t missed a game in 5 years saying that; what hope do they have of attracting new supporters?
Decisions in games in the last 2 seasons have made it feel like I am watching a Pro-Wrestling match with the results already decided by the referee. It isn’t sport.
I have no problem watching players who are really bad (I actually find it quite entertaining at times, hence why I started watching Japanese football after growing a little disillusioned with the money and mercenaries of the English Premier League). What I cannot watch is 1 man giving terrible decisions to a bunch of players and manager who are trying their best in difficult circumstances.
It is unrealistic to think that the referees will be fantastic, but like the players I expect them to be honest and try their best.
The last 2 seasons I have left games on many, many occasions thinking that something is rotten in Japanese football.
Why have the referees been so bad for these 2 years? It is beyond the normal levels of refereeing, I would expect normal levels to balance out over a season, and as it is I can only remember 1 decision going slightly in our favour (the game against Gifu last season).
Option A – Are some of the referees are racist/xenophobic?
If you look at the key decisions made in the 2 games at the club this week they have both been against Korean players. Firstly there was the free-kick against Giravanz in which Lee Kwang Seon did nothing except run near the opposition striker to give up a free kick, and then in yesterday’s match the Oita player gets tangled with Park and pulls him down on top of his with a penalty being given.
This is just this week, but you can go back and see the same thing with Punosevac. Fouls being given for almost nothing (see free-kick at Roasso week 1), red cards being given for nothing (see Gainare last season), while fouls against them are almost never given.
I could use the referee from yesterday as an example. Look at these 2 decisions from just the month in matches with Avispa.
Same referee, both against Korean players.
I could go back further and find lots more, but just these 2 alone in the last 2 matches for the referee should ensure he doesn't referee another Avispa game ever again.
There have been instances in world football where games have been influenced by outside factors, there have been instances in world football where referees have been prosecuted for interfering with games.
The refereeing has been so bad for Avispa in the last year that I have thought about betting syndicates many times, and watched betting exchanges to look for big changes or strange odds.
I hope that the J-League is doing the same.
It is a fact that money has gone onto Avispa for a home defeat in recent games.
You could say that that is because Avispa have been playing badly and some people might be able to spot a team low in confidence but we have also been higher in the table than teams we have played (5th place before Golden Week) and for large money to be placed on away wins someone needs to be good at following the form guide.
Option C – Angry at Pusnik.
Referees in Japan live a very charmed life.
In every other country in the world they have every decision scrutinised by TV and newspapers from hundreds of camera angles in super-slow motions.
Here in Japan they do not even show a single replay of an offside decision or penalty decision so as to not embarrass the referee.
It is incredibly frustrating. I do believe that referees in Europe are over-scrutinised, but the opposite happens ehere where they are totally unaccountable for any decision they ever make.
I criticize the referees, but maybe I am wrong. The fact that the J-League don’t show decisions means they have no faith in their own referees.
Marijan Pusnik has been quite vocal about this since coming to Japan, and when bad decisions are made he has been a very obvious figure on the side-lines complaining that the standard is so poor.
He is almost alone in doing this, other managers seem to have ‘accepted’ the terrible standards even though it is destroying the game as entertainment in this country.
It is possible that having someone openly criticise themselves and their peers the referees in Japan have decided to ‘teach Pusnik a lesson’ by consistently showing that he shouldn’t rock the boat.
Even if it isn’t as far as that they could at least be showing that they won’t be intimidated by him and aren’t sacred to make big decisions against him. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if before games with Avispa the referees are told to not allow themselves to be swayed by his demonstrations. If I was a manager in Japan I know that I would be going to his office before the game to say exactly that (the irony being that I would be doing exactly what I would be complaining about!).
Option D – Are they just incompetent?
Probably the best-case scenario is that the referees are just really bad.
I’m not saying that all the referees are bad. The guy who refereed against Kyoto Sanga (Nishimura Yuichi 西村 雄一) was excellent in what was a difficult game, and not just because AVispa won that game; The referee against Nagasaki also didn’t influence the game and we lost the first half of that 5-0!
If the referees really are bad they need to be educated better. By that I don’t mean bring referees from England to come and talk to them, they should have referees brought over to actually referee during the English off-season. Japanese referees should be sent overseas to do the same.
At the moment the referees are killing the J-League product and no amount of Forlans or Malaysian players will save it.