Sunday 25 March 2018

Our referees are not good enough

More needs to be done to get Irish officials on world stage, says Errol Sweeney

Errol Sweeney

A provisional list of match officials has been released by the refereeing department at FIFA for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Sadly, there are no Irish match officials on that list.

Those who have been chosen are currently undergoing extensive and detailed training on and off the field. The last time we had any referee or assistant referee was 1998 at the World Cup in France. That honour fell to Eddie Foley, an assistant referee, from Co Cork.

We have had only one referee at either a World Cup or Euros ever. John Carpenter from Dublin, probably the best referee ever to emerge from this island, had that privilege. That was way back in 1982. Since then – nothing.

All of this when our near neighbour England has two sets (one referee and two assistants per set) and Scotland with one set on the provisional list. So the questions have to be asked: Is there politics involved? Are we just not good enough? What are the criteria for being selected? Will we ever be good enough?

Obviously, there are politics involved, and a lot of back-slapping too. This is FIFA we are talking about. It's often more about who you know than what you know.

It appears to me that match officials are selected based on the strength of their respective league. The theory behind this is that World Cup games are played in front of thousands of supporters and many more on television. It is felt that unless referees and their assistants are acclimatised to such big occasions that they might not be able to handle the pressure.

There is probably an element of truth in this argument, but why not bring officials from countries like ours along for the experience? How are we going to get experience if we are not exposed to these big occasions?

One only has to look back to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Howard Webb was viewed as the best referee in the Premier League, but he failed miserably in the final, showing 14 yellow cards and one red. He could have had two justifiable red cards in the first half but, in my opinion, he bottled it. That was his downfall.

Ultimately, however, we have to ask ourselves if our officials are actually good enough? Personally, I don't think they are.

That's not to say that Ireland can't produce top referees because I know we can. But a seismic shift is required both in the approach and attitude from the people at the top. Then there needs to be more cash and resources poured into refereeing at all levels.

A lot of money and time is spent on the national teams at all levels and the 'necessary evils' – the referees – are left to fend for themselves.

We need to have a full-time director of referees whose job is to scour the country for up-and-coming talent.

There needs to be a five-year plan put into operation where the cream of the crop are selected for intensive training and development.

We also need to cultivate and nurture that talent so that it will bear fruit eventually. That can only be done with dedicated and committed people at the top to ensure that this plan is implemented. There is no reason for Ireland or any other small country to be constantly on the outside looking in.

There is a move around the world for full-time professional referees. This doesn't necessarily mean they will be better because they are full time, not at all. The whole process needs to start in the head and work down to the body. People need to become referees because they want to and not because there is a need.

It's time that the powers-that-be at the FAI sat up and took notice of this aspect of our game and hire the right people who are driven with a desire to achieve. Then, and only then, will we hold our own with the guys at the top.

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

Sunday Independent

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