Friday 25 May 2018

Swedish referee starts Facebook page to give fans insight

Swedish referee Mohammed Al-Hakim
Swedish referee Mohammed Al-Hakim

Philip O'Connor

Swedish referee Mohammed Al-Hakim has taken to Facebook to offer an insight into the minds of the men who officiate soccer matches: and has received a thumbs-up from Allsvenskan fans for his efforts.

Concerned that referees are seen as being too remote, the 30-year-old started the page on the social media site to post about his role, discussing decisions with fans and showing them a glimpse of what happens behind the scenes of one of the more unpopular jobs in football.

"I know there's an interest for the role of the referee and I think the football family can benefit from having an insight into it," the 30-year-old told Reuters as he prepared to referee a top-flight clash between Kalmar and Sundsvall.

A promising under-age footballer before deciding to focus on refereeing, Al-Hakim says he wants to inspire others and to provide a balanced view of referees.

"But most of all, I want to increase the accessibility and the dialogue within the football family," he says.

Fans in Sweden seem to agree. Over 3000 have already liked his Facebook page, and his admission that he should have awarded a penalty in a game between Norrkoping and AIK provoked an interesting -- if not always refined -- debate.

"I have enough self-awareness that, if I have made a mistake, I have no problem admitting it," says Al-Hakim, who also serves in the Swedish defence forces as a lieutenant.

"There has been an lot of positive reaction, but obviously there have been some negative voices.

"I have a responsibility to make the page interesting, but readers also have a responsibility to maintain a decent level in the discussion to keep it alive."

High-profile Swedish referee Anders Frisk famously hung up his whistle in 2005 after Chelsea fans angry at his decisions in a Champions League match against Barcelona allegedly issued death threats.

Al-Hakim hasn't been bothered by the few abusive comments he has received.

He points out that UEFA rules prevent him from discussing European games he is involved in, meaning that, for now at least, it is only fans in Sweden who will benefit from his engagement.

"I've had questions about a bit of everything so far -- some rules, how I see things," adding that he receives private messages with queries as well as posts and comments on his page.

The ambitious young referee would like to officiate at a major championship finals in the future, and intends to keep the page going as long as the tone of the discussion is reasonable.

"It feels like the positive side far outweighs the rest, and that it (the negative side) isn't as visible."


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