The Rational Ref

It's not just referees who need guidance

HKFA's efforts to get everyone reading off the same page requires a more inclusive approach to be truly effective

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 August, 2014, 10:48pm
UPDATED : Friday, 15 August, 2014, 12:39am

Referees are often the butt of jokes through no fault of their own, but in Thailand they have only themselves to blame after spending their preseason swearing oaths to the Emerald Buddha to help clear match-fixing allegations.

Apparently the powerful green giant will keep referees on the straight and narrow. In case this fails, the Football Association of Thailand has also forced referees to take lie-detector tests.

Would similar measures work for Hong Kong soccer? Could paying homage to the Big Buddha on Lantau help end match-fixing?

It would make sense for authorities to promote ethical standards for all involved in the game, which includes club owners, team officials and players

Joking aside, when tackling corruption why do authorities and the media always seem to focus on referees?

Last season two top-tier Hong Kong clubs - Happy Valley and Tuen Mun - were suspended following match-fixing allegations.

In recent years, Hong Kong players have been charged with fixing games and handed life bans, whereas referees have never been implicated or charged.

Rather than focus only on referees, it would make sense for authorities to promote ethical standards for all involved in the game, which includes club owners, team officials and players.

The push for professionalism in the new Premier League means clubs must become more transparent in the management of their operations and business dealings.

Conflicts of interest should be declared too. Other preseason initiatives in Hong Kong have seen the HKFA give information seminars to referees and club representatives.

But the HKFA remains fixated on referees rather than encouraging clubs and all players to participate. This seems to be because the HKFA can make it mandatory for its 200-plus registered referees to attend seminars, but cannot force clubs or players to attend.

In one seminar organised for clubs which referees were expected to attend, it was obvious many club representatives left before the second session started.

The first session was a rundown on league rules (which rarely change) and the list of fixtures.

The second session was the referees department explaining how the rules will be applied.

And since HKFA seminars are conducted only in Chinese, no foreign players or coaches among the sparse assortment of club representatives attended.

So what can we expect for the new season in Hong Kong?

The 50 registered clubs within the HKFA are categorised into four new divisions. The Premier League has nine teams and the first, second and third divisions have 15, 12 and 14, respectively. No Premier League side will be demoted; in the other divisions the top team wins promotion and the bottom two are relegated.

The First Division catches the eye: there are five former top-tier teams - Citizen, Happy Valley, Southern, Sun Hei and Tuen Mun - competing against 10 others to win the one promotion berth to the Premier League.

On another matter, this season the EPL, La Liga, Serie A and Ligue 1 will use vanishing spray, but the Hong Kong Premier League will not. The official reason is the HKFA is required to purchase at least 2,000 cans of the Fifa-endorsed product.

Surely the HKFA can get around this. In India, the Calcutta Football League has no qualms sourcing its vanishing spray from a Chinese manufacturer rather than from the official supplier.

But would obtaining such products from mainland China be seen as "unclean" for Hong Kong's new Premier League?

Image is everything in soccer, and referees know this only too well.

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