Referees should be given the benefit of the doubt

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Photo by Aaron Sholl

Universally recognised as the hardest job in football, the difficulty of refereeing football matches, whether it be grass roots or the top flight of the game, can not be underestimated.

Referees earn their living making impartial, split-second decisions and do so with a vast knowledge of the game and years of experience. In every division it is the referee’s job to enforce the laws of the game to the best of their ability.

However when officials get it wrong, or people perceive some of the decisions they make as wrong, the backlash from players, managers and fans can be ferocious. I play inter College football most weeks here in Lancaster and I’ll be the first to admit I’ve disagreed with a referee’s decision and often made that known to everybody. But I follow the example that I see on television; professional players and managers in the Premier League are role models, and if they do not respect the officials then it’s going to have  a trickle-down effect.

Every time a top flight manager says “the ref’s ruined the game” after a defeat, referees lose more credibility. Moreover, when managers like Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson openly criticise the referee after a game, they are looking to shift the blame from their players and use the referee as a scapegoat. This is just not acceptable. Football is such a subjective game to interpret, one man’s penalty is another man’s dive. The managers must accept and respect the position of the referee and keep their opinions positive.

In leagues all around the world, players gesture imaginary cards to the referee in a hope that an opposition player will be sent off, and seeing a swarm of players descend upon the referee and assistant referees to plead that they may change their decision is a horrible sight seen far too often. While all of this may seem like nothing more than handbags on a football field, fans can make referees’ jobs, and even their lives, difficult beyond calling them a name that rhymes with ‘banker’.

Having a stadium of thousands of people hurling verbal abuse can damage the most impervious of souls. It has only been a few months since the attempted suicide of German official Babak Rafati. While this may well be an isolated case, it’s a slippery slope to just pass this incident off as down to purely personal and unique circumstances. We ignore this kind of case at a huge risk. In the end, it’s not much to ask of the footballing community.

At the current time the ‘Respect Campaign’ has been successful in only superficial ways. The logo’s appearance on shirts and advertising boards is all well and good, but if players and fans are still abusing the referees, and managers are relentless in their post-match critiques of every decision that goes against them, then the respect campaign is not only pointless but yet another dent in the integrity of FIFA and its bumbling oaf of a president.

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