Friday 30 September 2016

Powers that be have to stop violence on referees

Errol Sweeney

Published 24/05/2015 | 02:30

Referee John Beaton, who was attacked by a player during a match in Saudi Arabia, arriving back at Glasgow Airport
Referee John Beaton, who was attacked by a player during a match in Saudi Arabia, arriving back at Glasgow Airport

The assault on a referee in Saudi Arabia recently should be condemned by all. The incident again highlights a dangerous, and sometimes deadly, aspect of refereeing in the modern game.

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It happened in a local derby between two of the KSA's fiercest rivals, Al Hilal and Al Nasr. The intensity of the rivalry between these two teams is such that referee John Beaton and his two assistants, Stuart Stevenson and Douglas Ross, were 'parachuted' in as the local association felt that their referees would not be up to the job. The game appeared to be going OK despite the referee issuing a red card to Al Hilal's Mohammad Jahfali in the 67th minute.

The situation really got out of hand in the final minute when a red card was issued to Saud Kalili, a team-mate of Jahfali. As a result of this, a team-mate of the two expelled players, Al Dawsari, confronted the referee and a blazing row erupted between the two men. Al Dawsari then threw his head in the direction of the referee and immediately received a red card.

The player had to be restrained by his team-mates, but did push Beaton in the back before being escorted from the field of play. Saudi Arabia is not the only country to ask for assistance when their top teams clash. Egypt is another which requires the intervention of outside officials. Following on from that incident came the news that a referee in Peru was the subject of a kung-fu attack by a goalkeeper whom he had just yellow-carded. It happened in a Copa Peru game between Union Perene and Pichanaki. The referee was moving away when the 'keeper followed him and kicked him kung-fu style in the back. The unfortunate man in black was sent sprawling to the ground, but was able to continue. And only last year, Bosnian 'keeper Romeo Mitrovic was banned for nine months for punching the referee who had just awarded a penalty against him.

This is clear and blatant thuggery on an arbitrator, which is what we referees and assistant referees are. Referees are there to arbitrate in a conflict situation; to decide on an issue of contention; to decide which side or individual is correct and which one is incorrect; to ensure that the match is played according to the FIFA Laws of the Game and that the team scoring the greater number of goals wins the game.

I deliberately did not use the words right or wrong, as this can be subjective. However, there is a correct and an incorrect decision and referees try their level best, given the incidents as they occur in front of them, and based on information supplied from their assistants, to ensure that the offending team and/or player is correctly penalised.

These incidents, as if it were necessary, highlight the difficulty of being a referee in the modern game and shows how dangerous it can be to be a match official. It also highlights the need for additional assistance, and not assistants, as we now have at UEFA Champions League and Europa League games, to allow referees and their linesmen, to use an old description, make the correct decisions.

Yes, I'm talking about technology and the sooner it is introduced the better. Only this year in the US state of Michigan, Bassel Saad admitted striking father-of-two referee John Bieniewicz, aged 44, during a match and pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter. Mr Bieniewicz never regained consciousness after being punched in the head by Mr Saad. I was assaulted in Umtata in South Africa in 1988 by a fan who ran onto the pitch at Independence Stadium when the home team, Umtata Bucks, lost out to Fairway Stars in the then BP Top 8 competition.

My assistants and I were locked in the dressing room for over an hour after the game and had to have an armed police escort to the airport, such was the reaction to the sending off of the Umtata full-back Laban Lande. Were it not for the timely intervention of the late Clarence Mlokoti, who was the match commissioner, I may not be writing this article today.

While these incidents are rare, certainly at the higher level, there is anecdotal evidence that it is happening with more regularity at the lower levels of the sport. Without referees, the game cannot proceed, or so we are regularly reminded. If that is the case, then it's time for the powers that be to take the strongest possible action against the perpetrators of such acts of violence on referees and their assistants.

Unless referees and their assistants can feel confident in their personal security before, during, and after a game, the numbers of men and women in black will continue to dwindle and that will spell disaster for the game.

While I'm not, nor would I ever, promote referees retaliating against offenders, one did. It happened in a Sunday morning six-a-side game in England recently when a player argued with an assistant referee so vociferously that the assistant punched him. The assistant got a nine-month ban and a criminal conviction.

Errol Sweeney is a former League of Ireland and South African Premier League referee

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