The Rational Ref

Blaming ills of the Hong Kong league on match officials is misguided

Sun Hei president Chow Man-leung needs to look in his own backyard for answers on problems in our city's domestic games

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 October, 2013, 3:41am

Extraordinary claims made last week by Sun Hei club president Chow Man-leung about the prevailing state of the local game deserve examination.

"I have been involved in Hong Kong soccer for more than 20 years and no progress has been made despite the recent government's investment," Chow said. "This is because [of] the poor standard of referees. In fact, we requested the Football Association a couple of years ago not to use referee [Ng Chiu-kok] for our matches, but it just fell on deaf ears. He is a very nice man, but never a capable referee."

First, Chow claims there has been no progress in the game for more than two decades. His experience tells him that the local game has not improved during the 1990s and 2000s. Chow also believes the government's recent investment, known as Project Phoenix, is not having any impact and, bizarrely, he puts the blame squarely on standards of refereeing.

The losing team should look at themselves and figure out who is truly responsible for their basic and amateurish errors on the pitch
William Lai

There are many factors contributing to the decline over the past two decades. However, to blame its woes directly on refereeing is absurd. Let's be clear - referees are not to blame for the performance of players, marketability of local teams, and the commercial status of the domestic league.

If we compare the standards of referees and of players this year and in 1993, the professionalism of both players and referees from these two eras is obvious. To say standards in soccer and refereeing have not improved is disrespectful and dismissive of any progress, and false.

Second, Chow asked that the HKFA not appoint an official for his team's matches. Such requests smack of bias, prejudice and arrogance. It reveals the pressure clubs can exert on competition organisers.

What gives Chow, or any other club owner, the right to pick match officials? Do the values of impartiality, neutrality and integrity mean so little to them? If all clubs were allowed to refuse particular referees and choose the ones they liked, there would be chaos and the system of appointing impartial referees would be, and would be seen to be, corrupt.

Furthermore, the issue of how clubs would choose match officials would be problematic. How would club owners know whether a match official is "good" or "capable"?

Third, Chow said Ng "is a very nice man, but never a capable referee". Chow's opinion regarding an individual's personal attributes is based on his own socio-cultural standards and preferences. No one can challenge Chow's opinion in that regard.

However, on what basis is Chow's judgment made on whether a referee is capable or incapable? What qualifies Chow to assess the skills of match officials?

If Chow can clarify and demonstrate that he possesses such skills, then perhaps his comments about referees may be taken seriously. Until then, he is just another statistic among millions of soccer fans who love the game, but know very little about refereeing.

There is no denying that Chow is experienced in owning and managing clubs, and also perhaps in coaching and playing. His passion may also have given him a vast amount of soccer facts and trivia. However, there is a world of difference in having an understanding of the game and an understanding of refereeing.

This has to be made clear since every week commentators, who are most likely former professional players and coaches, discuss refereeing matters as if they were experts on soccer officialdom.

Essentially, they are soccer players discussing refereeing matters, and therefore their comments in that context cannot be taken seriously.

Fourth, Sun Hei were the losing team last week, so it comes as no surprise that Chow complained. This shows the inherent bias and prejudice of statements that emanate from teams.

Finally, the incident that triggered Chow's complaints was when the linesman raised his flag to indicate a foul and Sun Hei players stopped without waiting for the referee's whistle. South China's players continued and scored the second goal in their 2-0 win.

Instead of complaining about refereeing standards, Chow should instead be criticising his own players who are professionals. Every schoolboy knows the term: "play to the whistle". So why did Sun Hei's professional players stop when there was no whistle? Instead of pointing fingers at match officials, the losing team should look at themselves and figure out who is truly responsible for their basic and amateurish errors on the pitch.

Is it really too much to expect players, coaches and club owners to have some critical thinking skills?

Agree or disagree? Contact Rational Ref at rationalref@gmail.com