Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/7/2010 (2582 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
What does the busiest official in World Cup history do when he returns home from a 44-day stay in South Africa? He puts on his cleats and gets back on the pitch, of course.
Héctor Vergara has officiated more World Cup games than anyone in history. At the recently completed 2010 edition of the world’s biggest sporting spectacle, he was patrolling the sidelines as an assistant referee for the Italy-Paraguay and Brazil-Portugal first-round matches, and the third-place match between Germany and Uruguay.
That brought Vergara’s total to 14 matches in the last three World Cups. One might think the 43-year-old father of four from Whyte Ridge would want some rest when he returned home. But Vergara was back on local fields asserting his control over senior men’s league games and provincial championships.
"There’s a slight difference in skill level and speed," he quipped.
As for future international competitions, Vergara’s time is running out, as FIFA forces referees to retire at age 45.
"I’m not sure I even want to continue after 18 years of doing this," Vergara said. "After 18 years your body starts saying to you that enough is enough."
The executive director of the Manitoba Soccer Association when he isn’t travelling the world with his whistle in tow, Vergara has no regrets about the role he played in World Cups on three different continents.
"I never had any issues during any of my games," he said. "I may have had some tight calls, but I never really had an issue at that level."
That’s more than can be said for several of his colleagues, who became international punching bags after some controversial missed calls in South Africa. As far as Vergara is concerned, none of those calls handed victory to the wrong team, and no one feels worse about a mistake than an official.
"No one is as critical on the referees as we are on ourselves," he said. "We’re our worst critic. We’ll watch the tape over and over to see where we could do better."
Vergara said FIFA studied all the critical decisions — goals, offsides and penalty area plays — made during the tournament, and found the referees were correct 97% of the time.
"You compare that 97% to the number of penalty kicks that were taken, and they’re percentage of success was 67%" he said. "Yet we’re hammering the referees… but we’re not saying anything about the fact the players aren’t scoring from free kicks or penalty kicks."
As long as human beings are calling games, mistakes will be made, Vergara said. But that doesn’t mean he’s in any hurry to give technology — such as instant replay — a role in officiating.
"I’m not a proponent of technology in soccer," he said. "To me, there is a natural flow to soccer.
"I think it takes a lot away from the momentum as well as the game itself by putting a stoppage in to do a video review."
Vergara said he would support the idea of having extra officials on the goal lines to determine whether a goal is scored.
Héctor Vergara speaks...
On South Africa as a host:
"I think the South African people worked extremely hard to make sure this World Cup went off as best as possible.
There was a lot of pride in what they were doing. They were very friendly. They went out of their way to get things done for you. It was the first World Cup in Africa after all, so from that standpoint they wanted to put on a good show.
In general I think the organization went off pretty good, considering that everybody was so concerned about stadiums not being ready and transportation and security. At the end of the day they proved that they were very good hosts."
On refereeing with vuvuzelas buzzing:
"When you’re a referee, you’re so concentrated and focused on what you need to do that there’s a lot of things that happen in the periphery that you don’t pay attention to. Vuvuzelas is one of those examples.
I’ve been in Azteca Stadium in Mexico City with 114,000 people, and when you’re there the humming sound sounds like a pack of bees and you also tune that out.
During our daily training, which was two to three hours most of the time, we taped the vuvuzela sound in a match and then it was played over the loudspeakers while the training was going on so we could get used to it and also tune it out.
Even with the vuvuzela sounds, we started to be able to differentiate between the kick of the ball or conversation between people.
We became very accustomed to it, and at the end of the day it didn’t bother us at all.
On whether the referees were aware of the outside criticism:
"We were aware. There are hundreds and hundreds of media that go to the event, and we have four days where we actually meet with the media officially. When some incidents would happen, then everybody would want to ask questions.
To be right to the point, how many incidents are we talking about? The incidents were a big story because it happened to be England-Germany, and it happened to be Argentina-Mexico, so there’s two incidents right there.
United States (played in a game) where a goal was disallowed in the last minute. I don’t recall many more other than that that were of major consequence.
When you look at them individually and the countries that were involved, everyone makes a big fuss because it is what it is. A mistake’s been made and nobody can say otherwise."
On England’s ‘goal that wasn’t’ against Germany:
"To be quite blunt, the assistant referee was exactly where he was supposed to be, with the second-last defender at the moment the ball was kicked. By the time the ball was kicked, travelled to the net, bounced twice and came out of the net, 2.15 seconds went by. They actually timed it. Within two seconds there’s no way he’s going to run 10 metres and see that ball.
It’s just humanly impossible to do that. Nobody feels worse than him."
On whether controversial calls affected outcomes of games:
"We’re talking about two incidents in two games where the other team absolutely dominated the game. In other words, whether that ball goes in or not, England was not the better team. Germany was the better team. Germany deserved to win the way they won. If that ball goes in, Germany would have come back and won 4-2. Germany was just that much better than England.
The same thing with the Argentina-Mexico game. Argentina totally dominated the game; Mexico is not the same quality."
On what he would change if her were president of FIFA:
"Everybody complained about that handball by (French striker Thierry) Henry (that sent France to the World Cup and eliminated Ireland) and the fact that he was able to participate in the World Cup.
I would say that people that cheat the game and it can be proven — this is where I would use technology, after the game is over. If you did that, I believe there’s a lot of things that players wouldn’t do. If Henry knew that by him doing that he wouldn’t go to the World Cup — that he’d be suspended for a year and wouldn’t be able to go to the World Cup — I guarantee you that if the referee didn’t call it, Henry would’ve been the first one to put up his hand."
On his thoughts on Canada not being at the World Cup:
"It’s frustrating. People tend to call us a rich country. It’s true. We have a lot of resources, but our sport hasn’t really been soccer, although it’s starting to change a little bit. There are things we don’t have in Canada that we eventually need to have, and a lot of financial resources need to be put into this.
One thing we don’t have enough of is good quality coaches. We need to work hard with our grassroots, and put our best coaches at that level to develop the young players in the country. We need to have resources provided so that our players begin to compete at a high level at a younger age. We need a professional league somehow. It would be nice to have some sort of Canadian league that our kids can aspire to play in."