Tuesday, 9 August 2011

World Cup Part 3 - Glowing Globes Gazette

Glowing Globes Gazette

In the third and final installment of Beth's World Cup report, she discovers that it is not only the players bottoms that pay for substandard performances, it is also those of the officials.

The world of officialdom

World Cup games would not be possible without referees.  For the women’s matches, FIFA dictates that the crews must be all female.  This can present challenges for those in charge of officials.  I talked with Match Commissioner Karen Espelund to get more information about how officials are chosen, trained, and the expectations that they are held.

Match commisioner; the formidable Karen Espelund.

First of all, Ms. Espelund told me that FIFA level officials are not created over night.  Officials move up in ranking through an evaluation process, and it can take a number of years before a referee is considered for a FIFA badge.  Referees are tested over the laws of the game, they are evaluated in calling matches, and their fitness level is assessed.  Only referees who meet the highest standards are given FIFA certification. 

FIFA level referees are further broken down into referee and assistant referee, or AR, categories.  As Ms. Espelund explained, being an excellent AR requires practice at being an AR.  ARs are looking for things in a game that the referee is not generally focused on, such as offsides.  As a result she said, we certify some officials to serve only as ARs and other officials to serve only as referees in international matches.
One of the challenges FIFA faces is having a sufficient pool of women officials who are eligible to be certified as FIFA level officials.  One problem is the lack of women’s professional football leagues.  Several professional leagues exist in Europe and the U.S. where officials can gain the necessary experience to call international level matches.  Some college divisions in the states also have matches of a high enough caliber to train future FIFA referees.  However, unlike the men’s side, women officials across the globe do not have access to high level women’s matches that are the training ground for FIFA.  And in some countries, cultural mores, and even the law may prohibit women from calling men’s games, where they could gain the needed experience. 

Compounding the problem is the fact that all continents must have referees working the World Cup.  We might be able to find a sufficient number of American and European officials to call all of the matches, but we must have referees from Africa, Asia, the Pacific Rim, and South America, too.  Additionally, referees must be neutral.  For example, a referee from the U.S. cannot call a match in which the Americans are playing.

As a result of these challenges, we treat the officials who call the Women’s World Cup differently than the referees that call the Men’s World Cup, according to Ms. Espelund.  In the Men’s World Cup, if an official makes a major mistake, he is sent home and loses his FIFA credentials.  It doesn’t matter what part of the world he comes from; we have a sufficient pool of referees to replace him.  Although we do not advertise the fact, we generally send home between 2 to 4 referees and ARs during each World Cup.
We do not have this luxury on the women’s side.  We carefully evaluate officials during the qualifying stage to select the referees used for the World Cup matches, but due to the small pool of qualifying women officials, some officials may be chosen whose qualifications are minimal. 

“I hate to admit this,” Ms. Espelund told me, “but I fear we may occasionally cut corners in our referee selection process.  We try to make up for this with a mentoring process and continued training in the matches leading up to the World Cup and even during the World Cup.  If a referee fails to meet standards, we don’t just ship them home, like they do on the men’s side.  When a referee makes a major mistake, we offer remediation to try and salvage the official.”

Correcting mistakes

Naturally I was curious as to what kind of remediation would be involved.  I can’t imagine them sending the referee to go call some under 14 girls’ games to get extra practice.  And FIFA can hardly dictate that American college leagues provide remedial games to referees who don’t live in the U.S.   So I asked the question that I knew Glowing Globes Gazette readers would want answered.  What constitutes remediation for referees who mess up?

Ms. Espelund told me that remediation comes through redemption, and redemption is earned through discipline.  That seemed rather complicated to me, but I did hear a key word – discipline.  Discipline is something that Glowing Globes Gazette readers are extremely familiar with.  I wanted to know how FIFA disciplined its wayward referees.

At this point, Ms. Espelund hemmed and hawed a great deal.  Clearly this was a question that she was hesitant to answer.  She asked me again for my press credentials and asked me to explain the publication for which I was writing, as she had not heard of my magazine.  Once I explained what Glowing Globes Gazette was about, she breathed a sigh of relief, saying that I alone of all the press corps was likely to understand FIFA’s methods, which she then explained to me.

FIFA believes that referee mistakes are commonly caused by one of two different causes.  The first cause is inattention.  For whatever reason, the official loses focus during the game and misses calls that should be made.  A prime example of this took place during the match between Australia and Equatorial Guinea when all three officials somehow missed a blatant handball committed by Equatorial Guinea in that nation’s penalty area.  The second common cause of referee error happens when the referee forgets what her role is in the match and tries to turn her role into what was not intended.  The most outstanding example of this is what happened during the U.S. versus Brazil game.

So what exactly happens when the referee messes up?  Ms. Espelund made clear that the referee has a choice to face discipline or to turn in her FIFA badge.  Most officials will gladly accept the discipline to maintain their prestige as a FIFA referee.   She then stated that referees are offered the opportunity to submit to a sound spanking to salvage their FIFA careers.

From Firmhand Spankings. A recently paddled referee displays the results of failing in her duties during a match.

The power of the press

When I asked Ms. Espelund where FIFA got the idea of spanking referees, she looked at me rather incredulously and then looking directly at me said, “We got the idea from you.”

Now it was my turn to look incredulous.   “How did I give you that idea?” I asked.

She explained that she had read my article “Heat,” written back in 2000 about the U.S. team training for the Sydney Olympics.  If the American team could use paddling to motivate its players, perhaps FIFA could use spankings of some sort to motivate its officials.    Corporal punishment was put into use at the 2000 Olympics and has been in use at international women’s events ever since.  I had no idea that my power of the press was quite so powerful, but apparently it was.

Ms. Espelund then walked me through the process used in the two matches she gave as examples of referee error.

In the first match, the referee, Gaal Gyoengyi of Hungary was clearly at fault.  She should have been in a position to see the deliberate handball.  We also wanted to determine if the ARs should also be held accountable.  We asked them to see if they had seen it, and both said no.  The next question to be answered was should they have been able to see it, so we reenacted the event using film footage and the ARs position at that moment to determine if they should have been able to see it.  We decided that both ARs should have been able to see the violation and thus notified the referee of the infraction.  As a result, all three officials were deemed liable for missing the call.

Hungarian referee Gaal Gyoengyi committed a howling mistake in the Australia V Equatorial Guinea match.

In the Brazil versus U.S. game, we had a different situation.  In this case, it appeared not to be that calls were necessarily missed by the referee but were instead made up by the referee.  What made this all the more serious was speculation following the game that the match was allegedly supposed to have been fixed, and through luck and Abby Wambach’s head, those plans were thwarted.  To be frank, our first inclination was to permanently remove Jacqui Melksham from the referee list.  We also had great concern about the work of AR Allyson Flynn.  It was her missed offside call that allowed Brazil to tie the match.  We conducted a very thorough investigation, including the examination of bank records before reaching the decision of allowing these two women to submit to discipline rather than requiring them to submit their FIFA resignations.  I must admit that we were rather relieved that a criminal probe did not appear to be necessary, and perhaps that is why we were willing to give these two officials a second chance.

Referee Jacqui Melksham was also under investigation.

Making the punishment fit the crime

The type of spanking is determined by what would be given in the country that was harmed by the official’s actions.  The severity of the spanking is determined by how much damage the offended team incurred.   In the first match, the nation that was harmed was Australia, and we inquired as to what implement would commonly be used in that nation to give a serious spanking.  We were told the belt was the most common implement for that type of spanking, so a leather belt was what we decided to use.   In the second match, the wronged team was the U.S., and we already knew from your article that Americans prefer the paddle for serious discipline.

Fortunately for the five officials involved, their errors in judgment did not change the outcome of the match, Australia’s group standing, or which team advanced to the semi-finals.  Had any of those outcomes been affected, the spanking they received would have been much more severe.  Even so, such major errors required strong discipline.  Gaal Gyoengyi was sentenced to 40 strokes of the belt.  The two ARs in that match, Cristina Cini and Natalie Aspinall were each assigned 25 strokes.   Jacqui Melksham was sentenced to the most severe paddling given to date – 50 strokes, for her role in the U.S. versus Brazil game.  The AR, Allyson Flynn was sentenced to 25 strokes.

Cristina Cini facing a 25 stroke strapping.

Natalie Aspinall also had to endure 25 strokes of the strap.

The punishments were scheduled to be carried out at FIFA’s World Cup headquarters in Frankfurt at the conclusion of the World Cup Final.  This would provide adequate time for investigation and allow the officials to decide if they want to keep their FIFA certifications.

I asked Ms. Espelund who would actually administer the spankings, and she told me that as Match Commissioner, that responsibility fell on her.  She also invited me to watch the proceedings, which came as quite a surprise to this reporter.  She said normally the sessions are conducted with only FIFA personnel present, but since the offenses had been so outrageous, it seemed prudent to have a member of the press present.  It made sense to invite me as this type of punishment had been inspired by my 2000 article.

On the day assigned for the spankings, the officials of each match were required to report as a unit to the Match Commissioner’s office in Frankfurt.  The officials from the Australia / Equatorial Guinea match were scheduled for 10 AM, and the two officials from the Brazil / U.S. match were scheduled for 11 AM.

 For the 10 AM session, the ARs were disciplined first.  The referee was required to witness the ARs spankings.  The idea was that if she had properly done her job, the ARs would not be receiving a spanking.  Ms. Aspinall went first.  The Englishwoman told us she was no stranger to being belted as that is how her own punishments were administered by her parents when she was growing up.  She was directed to lower her slacks and panties and to bend over the commissioner’s desk and to grab the far side.  This she quickly did without hesitation.

Once Ms. Aspinall was in position, I noticed how muscular her legs and buttocks were.  We take for granted that the players are incredibly fit, but it is easy to forget that the officials must be outstandingly fit athletes, too.  Ms. Espelund moved to the AR’s side and began the belting.  The strokes were paced about 10 seconds apart, and each stroke was laid on with vigor.  It was clear from the beginning that Ms. Espelund was not a disciplinarian to be provoked.

Ms. Aspinall showed almost no visible reaction for the first five strokes, but with the sixth stroke, she grunted and rose slightly off of the desk.  She quickly regained position for the seventh stroke.  From here on out, the AR began to cry out as each stroke hit home.   Looking at her hands gripping the edge of the desk, I could see her knuckles turning white with the effort to keep her in position.  I glanced at Ms. Gyoengyi, who was being required to witness this punishment, and I could see her face growing more and more pale as each stroke landed on her AR’s backside.  At about the 15th stroke, Ms. Apinall could be heard crying softly.  By the time the spanking had been completed, tears were streaming down her face.  After she had readjusted her clothing, she was given permission to wait in the outer office.  On her way out, Ms. Gyoengyi offered her a hug, which Ms. Aspinall accepted, and the two women embraced. I could hear Ms. Gyoengyi tell Ms. Aspinall how sorry she was for missing the call.

Ms. Aspinall left the room and Ms. Cini took her place.  The Italian was visibly nervous when she entered.  I imagine she could hear the previous spanking as it took place.  Ms. Cini was given the same instructions about baring her bottom and getting in position.  Her legs and buttocks were firm and muscular, too.  She was already trembling as Ms. Espelund got in position to administer the spanking.

The Match Commissioner spanked the second AR the same way she spanked the first AR; however, Ms. Cini did not take her punishment nearly as well as Ms. Aspinall.  This may be due to the fact that this was Ms. Cini’s first spanking, a fact she revealed after her punishment was over.  From the first stroke, Ms. Cini was crying and having a difficult time remaining in place.  If there had been any doubt as to the lack of severity of the punishment based on the first AR’s reaction to it, those doubts were laid to rest by the second AR’s reaction.  Ms. Gyoengyi was looking almost ill as Ms. Cini’s punishment drew to a close.  The deep scarlet color of Ms. Cini’s backside may have had something to do with how Ms. Gyoengyi viewed her own impending session over the desk.  Once the second spanking was finished, Ms. Gyoengyi offered the same hug and apology that she had given to Ms. Aspinall.  Ms. Cini accepted both with equal grace.

From School Girl Spankings. A recently strapped bottom over a lap.

It was now the referee’s turn.  Like her ARs before her, Ms. Gyoengyi lowered her slacks and panties and bent over Ms. Espelund’s desk.  As she got into position, she remarked that although she had been occasionally spanked with a belt growing up, it had been a number of years, and never anything nearly as severe as she was about to receive.  She asked for forgiveness if she failed to take the spanking properly.

Even though Ms. Gyoengyi was due 40 strokes compared to the ARs 25, Ms. Espulund did not go easier on her.  I was quite impressed at Ms. Espelund’s stamina, having already swung the belt 50 times, she did not appear to be tiring in the slightest.    Ms. Gyoengyi’s bottom quickly went from white to red to crimson.  Since this spanking consisted of 40 strokes, Ms. Espelund gave some of them on the referee’s upper thighs.  Those strokes caused the official to shriek in pain, but Ms. Gyoengyi never lost her hold on the desk and remained in place throughout the severe whipping.

When the spanking was finished, Ms. Gyoengyi took a few minutes to compose herself over the desk before standing and raising her clothing.  She then faced the assembled FIFA representatives, apologized once more for failing to make the proper call, and thanked them for giving her this opportunity to redeem her career as a referee.

It was now 10:30 and we had half an hour before the next two referees were due to arrive.  Ms. Espelund put away the belt and got out a large wooden paddle.  I was quite glad that I was not to be on the receiving end of 50 strokes from it.  While we waited, Ms. Espelund admitted that 25 – 35 were the usual number, and she wasn’t really sure how someone would hold up to the 50 strokes that had been assigned to Jacqui Melksham.

The two Australians were punctual for their disciplinary session.  The procedure was explained to both referees, and Jacqui Melksham was asked to go the outer office while Allyson Flynn received her paddling.  Ms. Flynn’s eyes grew large the first time she saw the paddle, and she was visibly trembling as she lowered her slacks and panties and bent over the desk.  Just as she had done with the belt, Ms. Espelund waited approximately 10 seconds between each paddle stroke.

Ms. Flynn’s muscular buttocks were clearly flattened with each lick of the paddle.  She grunted and raised up slightly one each impact.  Halfway through, she was loudly crying and apologizing for her actions during the game.  When it was finally over, Ms. Flynn collapsed over the desk and wept for several minutes.  Finally, she was able to stand, and with great difficulty she put her clothing to right and made her way out of the office.  It was Ms. Melksham’s turn.

As she walked back into the office, Ms. Melksham had a look of fear and anger on her face.  She requested to make a statement before receiving her punishment, and was given permission to do so.  Ms. Melksham stated that she was offended that her integrity had been questioned as there was no way she would ever fix a match.  She also stood by the calls she had made and the cards she had given.  Finally, she stated she was submitting to the paddling only to avoid the disgrace of being removed as a FIFA official.

I wondered how Ms. Espelund would react to such a statement, and I must admit to being a bit surprised that the only reaction was to ask Ms. Melksham if she were finished, and when being told yes, telling the referee to bare her bottom and bend over the desk.  If the statement had bothered the Match Commissioner, the method in which she executed the paddling certainly did not show it.  She paddled using the same measured pace and force as she had used on Allyson Flynn.  The only difference was landing several of the swats on Ms. Melksham’s thighs, the same as had been done to the Hungarian referee.  Ms. Melksham was crying loudly by the tenth stroke.  Approximately half-way through, the Australian broke position and stood up.  She was gently reminded by Ms. Espelund to get back into position, and after about a minute, Ms. Melksham was able to comply.

Despite her lack of acceptance of responsibility, I began to feel a little sorry for Ms. Melksham, if for no other reason than knowing it would be a very long flight back to Australia on an extremely sore backside.  Finally the paddling was finished, and I did not know before that moment that such a deep shade of red was possible.  I could see parts of her bottom already turning purple from the punishment.  When she was finally able to stand and readjust her clothing, Ms. Melksham was given permission to leave the office.

All debts paid

After everyone else had left, I asked Ms. Espelund what kind of career the punished officials could expect.  She told me that the crew that had missed the handball in the Australian game would receive closer oversight, but that their careers should suffer no lasting harm.  Their debt had been paid with a belt.  Allyson Flynn would receive similar oversight, especially in the area of offsides.  She would eventually be able to work her way back into top level matches.  Ms. Melksham would probably prove to be a different case. 

Ms. Espelund was bothered by Ms. Melksham’s failure to accept any responsibility for the calls she had made and for how she had made herself the focal point of the game.  She would be given international assignments, but they would probably be on the level of Fiji versus Papua New Guinea for the foreseeable future.  It would be doubtful that she would ever work her way back to top level matches, but Ms. Espelund had learned never to say never.  The only thing that she could say with complete certainty is that Ms. Melksham would never again work a match involving the U.S. or Brazil.

I must admit to being rather exhausted after the disciplinary session, and I was on neither the giving nor receiving end of any of the five spankings.  I was not surprised that Lisa Espelund looked tired, too.  Her arm must certainly have been tired from the workout she gave it that morning.  As I left the World Cup headquarters, I reflected on what I had seen. The first crew seemed very tight knit.   I could see them growing into better officials from this experience, and I was glad that FIFA had the wisdom to let officials redeem themselves rather than discarding them with the trash at the end of the World Cup.  I felt Allyson Flynn would probably be a better referee for it, too.  I was not so sure about Jacqui Melksham.  Perhaps she would eventually realize what she had done in that match, and I hoped that she would go back and watch the game and listen to the commentary.  Clearly she had been a good official to be given such a high level match.  It seemed foolish to me to take the punishment she had received and still throw away her career due to hubris.  I guess time will tell if she learned anything from her punishment.


  1. Thank you for a very informative post. I am a long time soccer fan and watched both the men's and women's World Cup matches. I remember the calls in the post and in particular the Brazil/USA game.
    And, excellent account of the spankings. Fifty with a paddle on the naked bum is quite painful. And, without a warmup. Ouch.
    Well done!

  2. Thank you Joey, it was quite a hiding that the girls received, but they had made some dreadfully and possibly costly errors. In particular the error in the Australia game could have been the difference between the girls continuing past the initial stages of the tournament or not. I will pass your comments onto Beth and hope that she consents to continue to write for Glowing Globes Gazette.