Leading off our review of highlights and happenings from 1998 was the story of soccer referee Esse Baharmast. The previous June, Baharmast became the first American to referee two World Cup games. One of them was the match between Norway and heavily favored Brazil that would decide which side would advance from Group A.
With just two minutes to play in a tie match, Baharmast whistled a penalty against Brazil and awarded a penalty kick to the Norwegians. They converted and went on for the upset win. Problem was, television cameras did not capture the foul. Within hours, Baharmast was the object of worldwide criticism for a so-called phantom foul that put not only his personal reputation but the image of all American referees in a negative light.
After two agonizing days, video from a Swedish TV station came to light that provided indisputable evidence that Baharmast was correct. Pundits who couldn’t wait to condemn the American referee now sung his praises.
Referee’s story was not only a recap of that call and its aftermath. It served as a tribute to a man who made us proud to be officials and who demonstrated courage in the face of international scorn.