Hanging Judge | Referee assaults continue unabated

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The assault of football referees is a subject that is very close to my heart, having been the victim of such an attack writes, Errol Sweeney. Picture: getty Images
The assault of football referees is a subject that is very close to my heart, having been the victim of such an attack writes, Errol Sweeney. Picture: getty Images


The assault of football referees is a subject that is very close to my heart, having been the victim of such an attack. And although it happened some years ago, it still resonates after all this time.

I’m sure I’m not alone in the refereeing fraternity and there’ll be many more who, after reading this column, will recall a time when they were also the victim of a cowardly attack by players, managers or spectators.

I bring this up now because, during my Monday Review Show last week, I was contacted by a referee from the US who told me about his experience of assault and the lack of action by the footballing authorities there.

The referee’s name is Paul Seiberlich and he’s from the state of Maryland.

The stories he’s been telling me indicate that there is a great deal of work to be done as far as discipline is concerned. It appears, from Seiberlich’s reports and videos, that assaults on match officials are a regular thing.

The leagues appear unable or unwilling to do anything to arrest this shocking behaviour.

READ: Hanging Judge | Referees should punish the more serious offence

The perpetrator has been charged and received the following sanctions:

  • A three-year suspended sentence;
  • Two years’ probation;
  • One hundred hours of community service; and
  • The referee who was assaulted received $978 (R15 000) in restitution.

Despite having been barred, the offender is still acting in some capacity at matches. This is in clear violation of the court order. These actions are no longer allegations as the offender has been charged and sentenced in a court of law.

I’m reluctant to print the person’s name since there might be an appeal and any information in this column might prejudice further action by the courts.

Suffice it to say that violence of any kind – and I mean any kind, be it verbal or physical – towards match officials is not only unacceptable, but should also be condemned by all sports lovers.

The bigger issue here, however, is the action taken by the leagues themselves. There appears to be a different set of “rules” in some of the competitions in the US, with many unregistered leagues – and therein lies a problem.

I spent almost 90 minutes on the phone to Seiberlich after my show and he relayed to me a litany of wrongdoings and horror stories in their various leagues.

The stories were as shocking as they were scary.

Things such as coaches “chest bumping” the fourth official and likewise the referee when he came to his/her colleagues’ assistance. Such behaviour (and I have video evidence to substantiate it) should be treated with the seriousness and contempt it deserves.

The alternative is that referees should and must withdraw their services until such thuggery is eliminated from the game.

Certainly, if I was in charge of the referees, I would not appoint anyone to games where such behaviour existed.

The referees need to organise themselves into a group and elect a spokesperson. There is power in numbers and this would send an unambiguous message to all concerned that it has to stop – and stop now.

As a further measure, the referees should not officiate at any unregistered leagues or competitions. They are leaving themselves wide open to abuse and possible assault with little or no protection from the authorities.

It’s time to get organised, guys. Band together. With modern technology and social media, you could form a group in no time and teams would soon realise that match officials are not “whipping boys” at the mercy of such aggression.

I’ll be discussing these and many other football issues on my online programme, Monday Review Show, on Facebook at 9pm.


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