Mali: World Cup Fans React to Referee's Controversial Call

It would not be a world cup of football  if there was not a controversy about referees’ decisions. The one that has marked the 2010 edition so far is the decision by Malian referee Koman Coulibaly to disallow a goal by US player Edu that would have capped a furious comeback from two goals down by the US national team against Slovenia. As the final whistle was blown, bloggers were expressing their outrage either on forums, or by creating 127 facebook pages calling for banning the referee from further participating in the world cup or defacing Coulibaly's wikipedia page. The outrage was not only limited to bloggers but also journalists who were quick to point out that this was not the first controversy in which Coulibaly was involved. Even famed Sports Illustrated writer Peter King weighed in instantly by posting the following update on his twitter feed:

“Putting a ref from a small African country in charge of a vital WC game is like a Mid-American Conference ref doing the Super Bowl.”

and explains his tweet in more details in an article blaming FIFA for allowing  “incompetent officiating to skate free”.

Photo of a Facebook page requesting Coulibaly to be banned

Nevertheless, before his sub-par performance, Coulibaly was the pride of his country [fr]  as the lone Malian participating in the world cup but also as one of the only four referees from the African continent at the world cup. In the comment section of the article in Maliweb about Coulibaly written before the game, many bloggers posted words of encouragement and wished him well. Bass Junior writes [Fr]:

C'est un honneur pour le Mali.Bonne suite pour vous,petit coulibaly!

It is an honor for all of Mali. Best wishes to you, dear Coulibaly.

Dahico adds [fr]:

La reussite est au bout de l'effort personnel. Si le travail bien fait annobli l'homme, alors je dirai que Komas l'est deja. Bonne chance cher compatriote et que Dieu t'assiste dans tes actions et surtout soit impartiel comme toujours.

Success is the result of personal effort. If a work well-done makes a man a noble, then I'd say that Koman is already one. Good luck to you my dear compatriot and may god assist you in all you do and as always, stay impartial.

Malian referee Koman Coulibaly

After the game, African bloggers were also at loss trying to understand Coulibaly's call. On  Seneweb forum, Auteur thinks that referring is already an issue at the World Cup [fr]:

les arbitres commencent à gacher le tournoi avec des cartons stupides,but refusé et des décisions contestables. Je doute fort que les huitièmes de finale soient d'un niveau élevé car beaucoup de joueurs seront suspendus

The referees are starting to spoil the tournament with their idiotic carding, the disallowed goal and many contested decisions. I really doubt that the second round will be of high quality because so many players will be suspended.

Another commenter adds [Fr]:

Ce type d'erreur ne se commet a pareil. Que la bourde de l'arbitre soit aux depends des US, de la Grece Antique, ou du zimbabwe, n'est pas le cas. Le probleme c'est qu'on est en coupe du monde et cet arbitre torpille les chances de toute une equipe. Imaginez la frustation de ces joueurs americains qui font tout pour faire reconnaitre le football par leurs compatriotes.

This type of mistake is just unacceptable. That the mistake was detrimental to the US, Ancient Greece or Zimbabwe is irrelevant. The issue is that this is the world cup and that the referee blows the chance of a whole team. Imagine the frustration of the American players who are trying their hardest to get their sport recognized back home.

Loic wonders why these types of call are still not reviewed right away [Fr]:

A quand la vidéo? Le seul argument qu'on nous oppose est un insuportable droit a l'erreur, un facteur humain qui entraine des “faits de jeux” d'autant plus iniques qu'ils sanctionnent ici une équipe méritante.

Video anyone? The only argument against this is the unbearable “human error” as an inegral part of the game, this is even more monsensical as it penalizes a very deserving team.

As one readers writes that it is a pity that the referee who made the biggest mistake is African, another one reacts [fr]:

Comme si les africains n'avaient pas droit à l'erreur!

Are Africans not allowed to make mistakes ?

Others believed that there is a bit of an overreaction to one  bad call. Daanii N tries to explain the decision in the comment section of Le Monde [fr]:

Je trouve que tout le monde exagère en ce qui concerne la décision de l'arbitre. Au moment où il a sifflé, plusieurs joueurs slovènes et américains se bousculaient et se tenaient les uns les autres. Souvent, dans des situations comme celle-là, l'arbitres siffle pour l'équipe qui se défend. Le seul hic ici c'était, qu'une seconde après, les Américains ont marqué le but

I think that everyone overeacts over the referee's decision. When the he blows the whistle, many Slovenes and Americans were wrestling and holding each other. As it is often the case in those situations, the referee rules in favor of the defending team. The issue here is that, a second after the whistle, the Americans actually scored a goal.

Although the anger from the US viewers is understandable and likely justified, African bloggers were not fond of the portayal of Coulibaly in the media. Sean Murphy at Africafeed took offense to Peter King's assessment of Coulibaly and his country:

“And putting @SI_PeterKing at the helm of a twitter account is like erm, putting 2 Black Hawk helicopters into downtown Mogadishu, or was that an “unfortunate” analogy?


  • Ben Walker

    It’s not the issue of like or dislike of any specific referee. It’s the issue of competence. Apparently Coulibaly lacks in that area severely when it comes to soccer. It might not make many people happier, but the classy thing for him to do would be to publicly admit he made a bad call.

  • Gregory Koch

    Ok. Coulibaly made a mistake. A big mistake of immense proportions. But a lot of umps/refs in every sport have made mistakes like that. Jim Joyce cost Armando Gallaraga a perfect game, but he admitted he made a mistake, apologized to Gallaraga and to baseball fans, and wound up shaking Gallaraga’s hand the next day. He was later voted the best ump in baseball. Coulibaly on the other hand has provided no explanation or remorse for his call. He has not even so much as made a public statement about it. If Coulibaly had reacted the same way Joyce did, I would have no problem with the call, and a lot of respect for him. But he didn’t. Barring something we don’t know about (like Mob involvement – I’m not suggesting anything, just allowing for the possibility) I do not think Coulibaly should be banned from the rest of the World Cup, but I do think he should at the very least issue a statement as to what exactly happened, and at best, apologize to all involved.

  • Peter Borst

    I am sure the FIFA dictatorship does not allow referees to make statements, let alone apologies for their mistakes.

  • Jaydee

    Are u guys objective, subjective or racial. Let’s face it, man, referees are human at all times, good or bad and sometimes biased whether we like it or not. What about the French ref with Brazil vs Ivory Coast? Taboo!
    Why does FIFA not introduce the system used in cricket for verification. Such mistakes or bad intentions are totally unacceptable.

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