In the U.S Grand Slam Open finals last weekend, a reffing mistake left Serena Williams hysterical. The chair umpire, Ramos, penalized Williams for on-court coaching which she acutely denied, consequently leading to Naomi Osaka’s win.
Similarly, Woodstock too had its very own controversial reffing blunder at Goal-A-Thon boys’ finals this year, which took place on Aug. 22 between Nice Guys and Suicide Squad.
The last goal that had taken the boys to the penalties started the controversy.
Nice Guys were taking a clear lead in the first half with the score 2-0 until Suicide Squad scored a goal in the second half.
With not much remaining on the clock, Iqbal Zaheer, Class of 2019, the goalkeeper from Suicide Squad, shot an unexpected goal from the other side of the court, which seemingly was out of sight for most people. The ball hit the post, however, not many could see if the ball had crossed the line. Moreover, the live stream camera had stopped functioning and hence did not catch the goal.
As soon as the goal was shot, a whistle blew, and after a couple seconds of confusion, Mr. Arjun Puri, one of the referees, declared it to be a legitimate goal. The crowd was dumbfounded, with many siding against the reffing.
This reffing balanced out the score 2-2, and with a few minutes on the clock, it took the boys to overtime, and when no goals were scored, to the penalties.
In the penalties, Ahaan Nayar, Class of 2019, from Suicide Squad scored a goal, giving the team their victory. The game ended with the score 3-2.
However, for the controversial goal, no one was sure if the ball had hit the outer part of the post and bounced off, or if it actually went in. This was significant as an alternate reffing of that goal could have changed the outcome of the boys’ finals, as the penalties would not have taken place then.
In the Goal-A-Thon award ceremony, Mr. Puri stood in front of all the spectators and delivered an apology if he had made a mistake in reffing.
He acknowledged that his judgment might have been skewed and made some error in his decision since he is human.
After the event, Mr. Puri explained in an interview, “In that moment, you feel like you’ve seen something and you rely on your own instinct. And then obviously people have an effect on you. There were some people who said they didn’t think it went in [and] some who said it might have.”
“I felt bad because even if there was a one percent chance that it might not have gone in, that means that I had made a mistake,” he said.
The assistant referee for the boys’ finals, Tenzin Chowang Taklha, Class of 2019, said, “Personally in my eyes, I don’t think it went in.”
Taklha reiterated with emphasis: “I did not see it go in. I’m pretty sure it did not go in.
However, he explained his helplessness as Mr. Puri was right next to the goal post, and Mr. Puri was the closest official who got to finalize the decision in accordance with the rules.
“The football rule is that the closest official does get the final call and his rule can overrule the rest of us, and I had to respect his call because he was right next to the goal post actually,” Taklha said.
Both referees explained that they tried to get a replay on the live stream, but the cameras hadn’t recorded that scene.
To get a clearer vision of what had happened, Iqbal Zaheer, who shot the goal, Neel Mukhija, the main striker from Suicide Squad, and Karsten Shaw, the goalkeeper of Nice Guys, were interviewed.
Zaheer explained the heated situation and the pressure of just a few minutes on the clock. He said that he was placed in a situation where he had to take a shot from where he stood, which obstructed the view of the goal significantly.
“Well, the whole team pushed back and I really didn’t have an option. I put the ball down and took the shot and hoped for the best. It hit the post but I really couldn’t see what happened. I had the worst angle as I was all the way on the other side and the defenders had covered the view of the shot,” Zaheer said.
According to Mukhija, he had expected the ball to come to him so that he could shoot, however, when the ball hit the post, he was too taken aback to observe.
“I was expecting the ball to come to me since I was a striker. I was facing the ball when Iqbal Zaheer shot and within a split second, it hit the post and went the other way so I didn’t really get a good angle to see it,” Mukhija said.
However, he added, “In my opinion, I don’t think it was a goal, but I’m not too sure.”
Shaw, despite being the goalkeeper and one of the closest to the scene, could not get a sight of the shot either due to defenders obstructing his view.
“My defenders were in front of me so I really couldn’t see the ball until it was too close,” Shaw said.
He further explained that he, as the goalkeeper, had his back against the goal, and therefore could not tell if the ball had crossed the line when it hit the post.
“My back was faced towards the goal because I was keeping, so I really couldn’t tell if it went past the line or not,” Shaw said.
In hopes to find out if it really was a goal, some of the audience were interviewed as well.
Muskan Negi, Class of 2020, said, “It hit the post and came back. The referee thought it went in and that it was a goal when it wasn’t.”
The majority of opinions seemed to echo Negi’s.
“It should not have been a goal. I feel that Nice Guys should have won,” Nayar said. Mukhija reflected Nayar’s thoughts.
In contrast to what had happened in the 2018 U.S Open Finals, where William’s took a strong stance on her defense, called the umpire a thief for stealing her points and smashed her racket down, Nice Guys did not react with such angst.
Moreover, the referee, Mr. Puri, apologized in case of a mistake unlike Ramos, who might have falsely accused Williams a penalty for on-court coaching.
Along with the public apology, Mr. Puri also personally approached every team member from Nice Guys.
“I waited for every member of the team, and I spoke to each of them and said, ‘Whatever happened out there happened and sometimes, you make mistakes. And if it was a mistake, I apologize to every one of [you],” Mr. Puri said.
Mr. Puri’s apology was taken very well by the audience and the players
Mr. Puri said, “When I finished speaking, I left the court immediately, and so many students came up to me just to say ‘can I give you a hug?’ and for me, that meant a lot.”
Tenzin Yugyel Norbu and Nayar sat with him after the game to comfort him.
He especially wanted to mention Norbu, along with Nayar, Tenzin Dorjee Nepali, Tenzin Chowang Taklha, Shaw, and Zaheer for their exceptional maturity in dealing with the rather tough situation.
Mr. Puri also acknowledged Mr. Steve Luukkonen and Mr. Jeff Doerfler for helping him through the incident.
“But if you ask me one person who went out of his way to stand by me: It was Yugyel. And I will never forget him for that,” Mr. Puri said.
He further explained, “[Norbu] pulled me out and said, ‘You need to take a photograph with me’ and he was laughing, and he said that I shouldn’t be sad at all. I knew in his heart it must have felt for him as it was his last year. I wish I had that kind of maturity when I was seventeen or eighteen years old.”
Norbu said that he did feel a little low, but he was trying to come from a place of understanding as he had been called out on his reffing just the day before.
“I was sort of smiling and stuff just to be fine about it, it was a little sad because it felt kind of incomplete. It felt like an unsatisfying ending for me,” Norbu said.
He added, “I was just trying to be nice as the day before, I was a referee and I made a crappy call and I got [called] out. I understand he made the decision in the moment so it’s not his fault. I told him it was fine; I was trying to tell my teammates to just to be chill about it.”
Nice Guys weren’t the only ones who felt uneasy with the results. Despite their win, many members of the Suicide Squad expressed their discomfort too.
“I felt really sh*t to be very honest because I really think we didn’t deserve to win, and I really did not want to win this way,” Nayar said.
He added, “I wasn’t happy at all. We did lose that game. I wouldn’t want to win this way.”
Although uneasy, not all member were so drastic with their repulsion towards the win.
Zaheer and Mukhija both explained that Goal-A-Thon had been something that they wanted to win since the seventh grade.
Accordingly, Zaheer said, “The fact that we won [penalties], I felt happy about, but the game should not have got there because of that goal.”
Mukhija too felt guilty about winning, however, explained that they were more passionate about winning than the other team.
“Even after we won, we didn’t feel like we won … but I think we wanted to win more because we’ve always wanted to win Goal-A-Thon and we play football,” Mukhija said.
He added, “As time passes, I’ve started to be more happy about the win than I was at that moment.”
Despite the controversy, the two boys teams set an exemplar for sportsmanship through displayal of maturity, just like the closing of the U.S Slam Finals where Osaka and Williams reconciled.
When the first place was given to Osaka and second to Williams, the crowd started booing. And Williams, despite having her trophy taken away by Osaka, comforted Osaka by telling her that she was proud of her and that the crowd was not booing because of her.
Similarly, although there was a lot of controversy and emotion, both teams dealt with the situation fairly well, as their focus wasn’t all on winning.
Mr. Puri said, “My honest opinion on both sets of teams that played on the finals is that they are an incredible group of young men who really have a wonderful, honest, forgiving, graceful character of people and who understand that there is more to life than just a game.”
Nice Guys assured Suicide Squad to relish their win and not feel too bad.
“They were like don’t worry about it, you should be happy—[I have] so much respect for them,” Zaheer said.
Despite their loss, Nice Guys also have a positive outlook on things.
“They’re my friends, I don’t care what happened—and they took it really well as well,” Norbu said.
He added, “I think in the crowd’s eyes’ we won, so I think I’m good with that… and I got pretty close to Mr. Puri after that so that was pretty good.”
Edited by Aarti Malhotra.
All pictures by Knema Gardner.