Referees are nobody’s friends

Johannesburg – I firmly believe that if you sell your honesty, you sell your soul – and if you sell your soul, you have nothing left.

I inherited that view from my parents, who raised us to be upfront about everything. If you make a mistake, admit it. After all, we are human and humans make mistakes.

In football today, it appears that honesty and integrity are merely words. Winning seems to be the only goal (excuse the pun) for players and coaches alike.

Spirit of friendship

The sight of players trying to hoodwink match officials is not only despicable, but also disgusting and very, very deliberate. There is no doubt that it is pre-planned and that a winning mentality permeates the entire sporting world, especially soccer.

Players fall down at the slightest touch; they hold their faces even though they have been tripped; they writhe in agony on the ground until the poor referee gives them a free kick or a penalty kick. Then, suddenly, we see a miraculous recovery.

They run to the referee, gesticulating that they want a yellow or red card issued to an opponent, yet, only minutes earlier, they shook hands with that same opponent in a spirit of friendship. Such hypocrisy!

How many times have we seen players crowd around the whistle man in a bid to get him to change his mind because they perceive their team or team-mate to have been unjustifiably fouled, and seek to gain an unfair advantage over their opponents? (I say “him” in this instance because it rarely, if ever, happens in the women’s game).

So much for fair play.

Make decisions

It is not only the players and coaches who are at fault – match officials take no action in dealing with such behaviour.

I have said many times before that I do not criticise referees for what they are doing. The criticism is for what they are not doing – and some are plainly not doing their job.

Their job is to arbitrate between two teams, according to the Fifa Laws of the Game, without fear or favour – regardless of who is playing or what the occasion is. The Spanish word for referee is ‘arbitro’, so you see where arbitrate comes from.

We are not called the man or woman in the middle for nothing. We are in the middle to make decisions based on what we see on the day and at the time that it happens.

I often say we referees should be called reactionaries. We see a situation and we react to it and make a decision to the best of our ability on what we see at the time. We don’t get a second chance to view it – although that day is coming, thanks to the introduction of the video assistant referee system. And the sooner it happens, the better.

Mentored several referees

Referees should be tough enough to deal with any situation. Refereeing is not for everyone – it takes courage and fortitude. You are nobody’s friend, nor should you be. We must remain neutral and impartial at all times.

My advice to match officials is simple: do the job you’re being paid for. If it is not for you or you don’t have a thick skin, take up some other sport.

Now, to those of you who are wondering who this fellow is who wants to lecture us on football rules, allow me to introduce myself.

I lived and worked in South Africa for 14 years during the 1980s and 1990s. I have been involved in soccer refereeing, actively and administratively, since the 1970/71 season in Ireland and continued to do so, uninterrupted, until 1990.

The late Kgomotso “Tso” Modise then asked me to take charge of refereeing in the National Soccer League and, in 1996, I was roped in as general manager in charge of referees in the Premier Soccer League (PSL). I retired in 1998 and went back to Ireland.

I have trained and mentored several referees who went on to officiate at World Cups. Some are still active in the PSL today.

In this regular column, we are going to deal with the laws of the game and the controversial incidents that happen during matches. Your feedback will be greatly appreciated.

Happy whistling!

Follow me on Twitter @dr_errol

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