The Rational Ref

'Ref rage' rears its ugly head, again!

All the way from the heights of the EPL to Mongkok Stadium the Respect campaign is not getting through to players and managers

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 January, 2013, 1:40am

When will there be real respect for the Respect campaign? It has been four years since the English FA introduced the campaign to support match officials, which took its cues from Fifa's values in promoting Respect for the Game.

Soon after, other competitions around the world adopted the campaign, presumably out of respect for the English Premier League's worldwide popularity. But in spite of its good intentions, the campaign is an unmitigated failure, as evidenced by regular scenes of "ref rage" broadcast around the world.

The latest examples came from three EPL managers during England's festive, fulsome and frenetic period of soccer last week. Alex Ferguson chastised three match officials at Old Trafford, Roberto Mancini used sarcasm to mock a referee's performance, and Harry Redknapp in claiming to never criticise referees effortlessly managed to contradict himself.

Redknapp, whose QPR side remain rooted at the bottom of the league, fumed at referee Chris Foy for making "scandalous" decisions. While Mancini, whose defending champions lost to Sunderland to slip up against their Manchester rivals at the top of the table, attacked referee Kevin Friend for "eating too much" Christmas dinner.

However, it is "untouchable" Alex Ferguson who was the most blatantly aggressive of the three as he harassed, hounded and harangued match officials during United's error-prone first-half performance against Newcastle United.

The crafty Scot may have been smart to lambast the linesman Jake Collin and fourth official Neil Swarbrick, while appearing to just "chat" with referee Mike Dean at half time.

Dean himself said Ferguson's approach to him was "reasonable", but it is puzzling why he did not report Ferguson's verbal assault on his assistants. TV replays and images clearly show Ferguson being abusive and disrespectful.

Here is an excellent opportunity to test the resolve of the FA's Respect campaign.

Following Chelsea's failed racism case against referee Mark Clattenburg in November, all conversations are now recorded using the microphones and headsets of match officials. Therefore, if Ferguson claims he was not being disrespectful to match officials, let's hear the evidence.

The recordings from the referees communication systems will set the record straight and tell the public just how "reasonable" Ferguson was.

Sadly and unsurprisingly, the FA and England's professional referees group will not entertain any investigation into Ferguson's abuse of the match officials.

The lack of respect observed week in and week out in the EPL obviously influences other soccer matches around the world.

Our own referees in Hong Kong also have a tough time dealing with disrespectful behaviour from players and coaches. In Tuesday's 35th Guangdong-Hong Kong Cup second-leg match at Mongkok Stadium, Guangdong demonstrated the dark arts in abusing and confusing referees.

In the first half, the Guangdong coach was angry at some decisions and came on to the pitch to remonstrate with the referee. From the centre circle the referee whistled a loud warning and then started to run towards the coach. However, a Guangdong player intentionally blocked the referee, who was forced to stop, and then another player stood in front of him to complain. Additional players then arrived to echo their contempt.

This clearly had the desired effect of delaying and confusing the referee because, when he finally cleared away the players who were hounding him (without issuing any cards), he approached the coach and simply "slapped his wrist" in telling him to calm down and get off the pitch. The referee was physically harassed and verbally abused by a concerted effort from the Guangdong team, which continued throughout the match.

In the second half, there was another protest from the Guangdong coach. This time the referee, having had time to reflect during the break, did not hesitate to send the coach out of the technical area and into the stands. However, the Guangdong coach in southern China is clearly not as intimidating, influential and "untouchable" as Alex Ferguson is in the EPL.

The FA will not sanction Ferguson for his disrespectful behaviour towards match officials, but instead have asked Mancini and Redknapp to explain their disrespectful comments before deciding whether to pass judgment on the 'lesser' managers.

The rules of the game clearly state "the referee's decision is final".

Therefore, in the context of the Respect campaign, when a referee makes a decision during the match, then that decision stands and players and coaches should just get on with play.

That, in essence, is the Respect campaign. It is simple to understand. Nevertheless the FA has this week again reiterated its Respect campaign to those who have difficulty understanding.

Sounding like a broken record, this half-hearted resolve to respect referees is destined to go the way of other superficial resolutions that crop up at this time of year. Respect? Yeah right!