Poor Suspension Timing Leads to Tinfoil Hat Conspiracies

The decision to suspend Robson the night before a game brings negative attention to MLS Disciplinary Committee again
by Henrik Lonne   |   Tuesday, August 21, 2012

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Barry Robson was suspended in the 2-0 Vancouver Whitecaps defeat to the Seattle Sounders for "aggravated dissent" in the loss against FC Dallas. Most decisions the referees make can be and are likely to be discussed, but in this case the most controversial part of the suspension is the timing of it. It was not a referee that suspended Robson against the Sounders, but the MLS Disciplinary Committee, and "logistics and personal issues" kept them from making a decision until Friday evening.

I'm not going to argue against the suspension itself here, but I take issue with the timing of it. I see it as quite problematic that the suspension is handed out less than 24 hours before the game.

First of all it has a negative impact on the game itself. The coach will have planned using certain players in certain positions, and while this could also happen through injury, it is likely to have an adverse effect on the play, as the coach is forced to change plans last minute and MLS as an organization shouldn't support that.

Additionally how fans perceive the actions and decisions of the Disciplinary Committee must also be factored in. Obviously the hope and idea of MLS is to create a “tough-on-crime” image that will discourage cynical play. But the problem with retroactive refereeing is that a lot people will compare suspensions for different breaches of rules. Since it is not a transparent system, this will create a breading ground for conspiracy theories. “MLS favours the big teams”, “MLS hates Canada” etc.

The lack of transparency in MLS means that it is easy for conspiracies to thrive, and when teams like LA or New York, the big market teams, or Seattle – the 42k-average-darling of MLS, seem to benefit from controversial decisions or the mysterious workings of the allocation system, it becomes easier for fans to accuse the league of foul play. It is most likely totally unfounded, but the lack of transparency makes it harder to publicly shoot down the conspiracies.

While MLS has stepped up its game in embracing Canada as a part of the league, there is at times still a sense that MLS sees itself as an American league first. As such whenever Canadian teams are the victims of dubious decisions, this will fuel the perception that Canadian teams are just guests in the league rather than equal partners. This obviously goes back to the lack of transparency in the workings of the league, and to repeat myself: lack of transparency and secrecy lead to rash conspiracies. People are always seeking excuses and when things are unclear, it is easier to make crazy claims.

The thing is that it is easy to avoid these situations: Streamline processes, like making suspensions effective seven days after the offence as suggested by Jason de Vos, and be open about how decisions are made. While people might disagree with the decision, it won’t invite speculation and foolish ideas.

When the Disciplinary Committee suspends Robson the evening before game, it feeds the perceptions that MLS favours big teams and dislikes Canadian teams, more so than simply penalizing a player disrespecting the rules or referees. MLS should crack down on players like Robson, but not in a way that gives the ball away to those wearing tinfoil hats.

Henrik LONNE

Copenhagen Business School
Club Domestic:
AGF Aarhus
Club Foreign:
Toronto FC
Born and raised in Denmark, the US performance in the 2002 World Cup dragged Henrik into the world of North American soccer. Subsequent trips to Canada made him a Toronto FC fan from abroad. The passion he now has for MLS outshines most European leagues.