First of all, if we have to go by what the proverbial saying that “no one in this world is pure and perfect” or “no human is perfect”, and to quote further, “to err is human”, then are we treating football referees as machine but not as human. Because we often witness physical as well as verbal abuse of football referees in the football pitch itself either by players or by the team officials. I think referees are also human being and human being often commits mistakes, either in their normal routine work or in their professional arena. Let’s also not forget such thing too. And such mistake happens even in the most sought-after leagues like – the English Premier League (EPL), La Liga (Spanish), Serie A (Italian), Ligue 1(French), Bundesliga (German), you name it.
In fact, there is no such referee called ‘perfect referee’ in the footballing world. They are all human beings. Despite of the amount of money you invested in the football in developed/footballing nation you still find those errors. Then, how can we expect that standard of referee in the small corner of the world like Manipur? Forget about Manipur, you have seen the standard of the referees in Indian Super League (ISL) despite investing huge amount of money by Football Sports Development Limited (FSDL) and All India Football Federation (AIFF). And those mistakes cannot be solely blame on the referee fraternity, but to the governing bodies like AIFF or the All Manipur Football Association (AMFA) in case of Manipur. It is the duty of the football governing body like AIFF or AMFA to conduct refresher course and training of those match officials (referees). So, when these governing bodies don’t conduct the world class or required level courses for these match officials, how can you expect a world class match official at the football ground? I think we cannot solve the problem by killing referees or blaming the referees. Simple as that.
In a recent disturbing scene, in and around Imphal area, many football lovers of Manipur or beyond, must have witnessed the viral video clip that some players and team officials running after the match officials and trashing them inhumanly. Whatever the reason maybe, attacking a match official is not a sign of professionalism. And in fact, those attacks and abuses should be turn upon AMFA, of course democratically, but not towards the referee community. It is not to exaggerate that unprofessional trend and culture is somehow created and indirectly appears to be inculcated by the football governing body like AMFA. Because we keep on hearing such abuse of match officials now and then.
The recent disturbing scene is not the only cases we are witnessing in term of attacking and abusing match officials. We have seen, heard many incidents of such physical abuse of match official in the pitch itself, including the attack of match official by a former international player who were part of current I-league team – NEROCA FC in Manipur State League (MSL). Record of such abuses and attacks are reported in local newspapers every now and then. Having said this, the author this piece is not promoting the biased nature of any judgement from the match officials. If we found biased nature of the referee, then there is an authority or governing body that look after these affairs i.e. AMFA for Manipur. The question is, how seriously AMFA is taking such disturbing turns of events into account? How far such abuses of match official has reduced due to the AMFA punishment against the respective teams or players who indulged in such un-sportsmanship like behaviors? And what is the plan ‘B’ or ‘C’ to avoid such disturbing scene again and again in the near future?
So far, we don’t see any match securities (civil) apart from that Manipur police commandos who are armed with loaded AK 47 and that too does not have any used in football field. Secondly, those policemen are not trained to conduct such sporting event of such sport atmosphere but for other purpose. Thirdly, the respective clubs don’t have any mechanism to discourage such un-sporting behaviors, if indulged by any of their players, like community service or penalty like fine/pay cut (which is done in European clubs) apart from the penalty that are imposed by AMFA. These things have to be taken care by the AMFA largely to bring into professionalism.
Talking in term of verbal abuse against match officials by the players and team/club officials. I mean those match referees/officials has also have their family like we have. And in most of the cases, their family or relatives also often came to stadium/football field to support him or her. So, it’s not only the humiliation faced by the referee itself, when you abuse them, but it is for the family and relative members including his or her kids, his wife or her husband. What their kids and wife/husband must have thought of, if such abusive incident happens? An excerpt from the interview report with match officials/referee with the Guardian journal says as:
I came away from that game feeling worthless, and deeply nervous for the next time I would have to referee.
Every game since I’ve felt extremely anxious about taking to the pitch. Fearing another 90 minutes of abuse every weekend led me to take a little time away from refereeing. I started refereeing because among other things it was a job I knew I’d enjoy – but I found myself despising it.
The abuse continued after the final whistle. I was sworn at and humiliated as I went to shake the hands of the people who had spent the last hour making my life hell. I reached breaking point. (The Guardian, 2017)
It is found out that the Indian referees are also not allowed to give interviews. If they do so, they have to do it with anonymity. An excerpt from the interview of the ESPN correspondence Sharda Ugra with some of the Indian referee, it says:
“football referees don’t give interviews.” The only person authorised to speak about refereeing in Indian football is the AIFF director of referees, Goutam Kar. The rash of referee criticism this season is not new; referees get criticised everywhere in the world, even in World Cups, and that the viewing public and television experts don’t understand the rules and “the perfect referee is yet to be born” (Sharda Ugra, 2018)
Another thing is that some player always tries to cheat the referee/match official either by diving or by faking or play-acting. Such thing is quite common in football and for such silly thing from the players; referees are the one who got blame, from the coaches, from the fellow players – off the field, on the field and from the fans, from the gallery, everywhere. Referee has hardly any support, as if they have to behave like a machine – a programmed one without any emotion. But, let’s not forget that even the Video Assistant Referee (VAR), that has installed on some of the advance country’s league has not done away with controversy. So, when that machine assisted football leagues are not free from controversy, how can you expect a wonderland Disneyland of football in Manipur?
I know and I have also had some of my personal experiences in my decade-long footballing career as an amateur player in and around Imphal Clubs like Citizen, NESU, USA, SFC and so on, that local referees are not up to the mark and sometime biased. Those biased nature of the referee is not at all to be supported. But we have to think deeper why such below par referee still conduct the official matches of Manipur state leagues? What and how far AMFA has done for the improvement of the standard of the referees? How well they are paid and so on. People hardly question such thing. Instead, people abuse referees on the spot, either physical or verbal.
Football is regarded as the beautiful game, but until all players, coaches and supporters that is in other words, the society treat referees like human beings as part of culture it will be a beautiful game with a very ugly side. You may also keep in mind that there was never a perfect football referee, and that perfect football referee is yet to be born.
Dr. Rameshchandra was a former football player (amateur) in some of the clubs based in Imphal like NESU Khurai, Citizens’ Club, Soibam Leikai, SFC Tera Khuraijam, among other clubs. He has also played the Subroto Mukherjee Cup 2001-2 edition, that represents the All India Sainik School fraternity. You may reach him via: [email protected]