Top officiating controversies in sporting history

If you are a sports lover, you have certainly been a logger heads with referees with some of their decisions. Here are some of the most controversial ones in the history of sports.

  1. 1972 Olympic Basketball Gold medal match


A series of refereeing mishaps involving a timeout and controversy surrounding the time left on the game clock led the USSR to an infamous 51-50 win which brought a huge uproar in that cold war era iconic moment.

View it.

2.South Korea vs Italy 2002 World cup knockout stage.

A strong Italian side who were amongst the favourites were controversially knocked out via golden goal by host South Korea with Ecuadorian referee Byron Moreno (Recently arrested for drug smuggling) writing his name in the books of infamy. Not only did he allow South Korea a controversial early penalty that Gigi Buffon saved but he also sent off Francesco Totti for Diving despite the fact that the ref was half the pitch away from the ball😂

The last straw was when he ruled out Damiano Tomassis golden goal .South Korea later scored their own golden goal to send them through.

View it.

3. 2018/19 CAF Champions league final 2nd Leg: Esperance vs Wydad Casablanca

In one of modern football’s most enduring controversies, the VAR equipment intended for the CAF Champions league final 2nd leg between Wydad and Esperance was misplaced by the airline in transit to Tunisia.

The first leg had ended 1-1 in Morocco and the second leg had tilted in favour of Esperance after they gained a 41st minute lead through Mohamed Belaili. Wydad thought they had equalised through Walid El Karti in the 59th minute but the goal was ruled out. When Wydad players demanded a VAR review of the goal a huge uproar ensued. Wydad walked off the pitch and even the intervention of the CAF president couldn’t bring them back.
The game was cancelled and declared in favour of Esperance. An initial decision to replay the game by CAF was overruled by the Court of Arbitration for Sport leaving Esperance the official champions.

View it.

4.Chelsea vs Barcelona – UEFA Champions league Semi Final 2009 2nd leg.

Referee Tom Overbro was the man on the spot as Chelsea played Barcelona at home
Chelsea took firm hold of the tie after a thunderous Michael Essien strike. But it was error after error for the ref as Abidal brought down Drogba in the box and the Ivorian was booked instead, Anelka was sent off in unclear circumstances after being denied two clear penalties. Everybody remembers the last minute Iniesta goal but nobody remembers the last minute penalty denial.

Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink later said it was the worst refereeing performance he had ever seen

Didier Drogba called UEFA a f****** disgrace.

Michael Ballack chased the referee down the field at full time with an angry expression on his face.

View it.

5.’Fail Mary’- Seattle Seahawks vs Green Bay Packers June 2012

In the midst of a conflict between the NFL management and its referees over a pay agreement, the league drafted in inexperienced replacement referees for the start of the season in 2012. This culminated in one of the sports most infamous calls as the Seahawks ran a last minute game winning play against the packers with a hail mary pass which the officials declared a touchdown but upon closer inspection, replays observed that the ball had actually been intercepted. The touchdown stood and the game gained its infamous ‘Fail Mary ‘ tag.

View it.

6. Calciopoli Scandal – Italian Serie A,B 2004-06

This is the biggest refereeing scandal of the modern era as telephone tapped conversations between Team managers and referees revealed a web of deceit ,lies and influence.
Juventus GM Luciano Moggi was the main protagonist as he wielded influence over high ranking officials in the refereeing board but Fiorentina, Lazio and AC Milan were all complicit.  Their main objective was influencing referee selections thus getting referees who would likely be more favourable to them. They were exposed when the telephone transcripts were published in local newspapers .

The punishments were instant:

Juventus was stripped off its titles in the past two seasons and relegated to the Serie B and docked 6 points.

Fiorentina were docked 15 points and stripped of their Champions league position for the season

Juventus General Manager Luciano Moggi was later banned from football related activities for life.

7.NBA referee betting scandal 2005-07

Top NBA ref Tim Donaghy left the sporting world in shock after the FBI uncovered that he was betting on some of the games he was officiating including betting on some of the calls he would make. He was arrested in 2007 and served one and a half years in jail.

  1. Test Cricket: India vs Australia in Brisbane 2003

One of the most Prolific batsmen of his time, India’s Sachin Tendulkar was sent to the pavilion on a Leg Before Wicket call which adjudged him to have obstructed the wicket but the replays actually showed that the ball would have flown high above the wicket. Jamaican umpire Steve Bucknor was responsible for this erroneous call that is still widely mentioned to date.

View it.

9.Hand of God : Diego Maradona vs England -1986 World Cup

Tunisian referee Ali Bennacur was the subject of speculation after this incident which is arguably the most controversial goal in history. Diego Maradona went up for a ball with England Goalkeeper Peter shilton with his first outstretched and the ball touched his fist before dropping into the net. He then wheeled away in celebration shouting at his teammates in Spanish to come celebrate with him quickly so as to lead the officials into believing it was an actual header. The ruse worked and the goal was awarded. It remains a subject of contention and a similar feat was repeated in the European qualification playoffs to the 2010 World cup where Thierry Henry used his hand to assist Anelkas goal against Ireland.

View it.

The article was first published on Steve Njuguna’s Facebook Page. It is republished here with his consent.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.