West Bromwich Albion have, I think, every right to be angry over the late penalty that led to Chelsea's equaliser at Stamford Bridge last weekend. Even if one errs on the side of Ramires, the call was nowhere near clear cut, and we'd all have been incensed had it happened the other way around.
This anger has apparently led to them writing to the FA asking that penalty decisions be put to review during the match. That's where things get unreasonable.
Yes, penalties are important. Yes, they're often called incorrectly by referees -- it's certainly a far more prevalent problem than the crusade for goalline technology addressed. And yes, when penalties are given, there's enough time while everyone's throwing a tizzy over the call to review the evidence.
But what about when penalties aren't given? That kind of mistake is just as common as the penalty incorrectly awarded, as Chelsea fans know all too often. When does that call get reviewed? The next stoppage might be several minutes down the road, but failing to review the borderline cases that don't get given is obviously biasing the game in favour of the defence.
And so everything must be reviewed. Yes, that would mean less diving, but that only rules out the most spurious of penalty shouts. More often, like with Ramires, we see players going down in the box under contact that might not constitute a foul. And in order for a penalty-review system to be fair, play would have to be stopped for review every time that happened.
In the current system, mistakes are made. That's obviously suboptimal -- if the referee, who is, in theory, justice incarnate, is suddenly an active force in a match, something has gone wrong. In order to cut down on those mistakes, modern technology possible to move the match into a different, more reviewable world. But the tradeoff, if one takes the actual balance of the sport into account, is time. We trade occasional refereeing error for not being subjected to extended stoppages every ten minutes.
In addition, treating penalties as an extra special case (granted, they always have a massive impact on goal probability) misses that other mistakes can be extremely costly. Ruling out a legitimate goal for offside (or allowing an illegal one to stand), for example, has more of an impact on the final score than a penalty award. Indeed, the goal that looked to have been West Brom's winner on Saturday was also the result of an officiating error -- there was a clear foul on Branislav Ivanovic in the buildup to Stephane Sessegnon's goal*. These sorts of inidents are much more difficult to review.
*I've seen claims that the Baggies' equaliser also involved a foul. I don't see it, myself, but that some do is further evidence that even with video evidence, this sort of thing is difficult to judge. Also, let's take a moment to remember that Boaz Myhill kicked Ivanovic after the equaliser.
In a world in which penalty reviews existed, Chelsea would likely have lost 2-1 last weekend. But in a world where there were no refereeing mistakes at all, West Brom would never have had their second goal. Things won't always be so neat, of course, but that doesn't make their dreams of a world in which they got an unjust win any less churlish.
Referees make mistakes. It happens, and that's unfortunate. But since they're not particularly biased about it, we have to accept that as the price of having watchable football.