At a World Cup full of scoring and spectacle, the spotlight has fallen on the one place few want it to touch--the referees.
Since the start, when a hotly debated hand-ball penalty helped Italy tie Chile, through a series of borderline calls, a rash of expulsions and even a tongue-lashing from soccer's world boss, the referees have been unusually prevalent in the outcome of matches and as the target of irate fans.
One African government minister said Wednesday that poor officiating was part of a racist World Cup plot and called the tournament a "festival of scandal."
Coach Claude Le Roy of Cameroon called on FIFA to do something about what he said was "incompetent" officiating. The nation's capital of Yaounde was the scene Wednesday of attacks by black fans on white-owned businesses in retaliation for what they saw as an anti-African soccer movement.
"What we saw is not a World Cup competition. It has been a festival of scandal," Youth and Sports Minister Joseph Owona was quoted as saying by the African Nation newspaper. "It was not the round ball that eliminated us."
Cameroon's players, still enraged about a call by referee Laszlo Vagner that disallowed their potential game-winning goal against Chile--and kept them from advancing to the second round--suggested bias lay behind the controversial decision.
"What happened to us is really very serious. We were robbed. The Europeans wouldn't accept a Cameroon victory," said Francois Omam Biyik, Cameroon's captain. It was his goal that was disallowed on a foul called against teammate Patrick Mboma.
"We've looked at film of the incident and it's very serious," he added. "The level of refereeing has to be the same for all the teams at the World Cup."
Said teammate Jacques Songo'o: "After what happened to us and then that imaginary penalty for Norway [in an upset over Brazil], it makes you think that perhaps African countries aren't supposed to win the World Cup. Perhaps the 2002 tournament should just be for European and South American sides because no one else stands a chance."
Cameroon's Rigobert Song was ejected from Tuesday's 1-1 tie with Chile, the first player thrown out of two editions of soccer's world championship, FIFA said. Four years ago, Song became the youngest player ejected from a Cup game when he was sent off at the age of 17 years, 358 days against Brazil. . . . More people watched England's 2-1 loss to Romania than any other soccer match telecast on a single channel in the last two decades. . . . Romanian midfielder Ovidiu Stanga is done for the tournament because of torn left knee ligaments.
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