Hanging Judge: Assault of referee raises questions of accountability

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Errol Sweeney
Errol Sweeney

I watched in horror as a referee in an ABC Motsepe League match in Chatsworth, Durban, was assaulted recently.

The referee, Mongezi Phungula, was physically manhandled as he was leaving the field of play at the end of the game between Summerfield Dynamos and XI Experience.

These were the most appalling scenes, the likes of which I thought had been consigned to the history dustbin. The unfortunate official was punched, kicked and beaten with fists and anything else that individuals could lay their thuggish hands on.

The most worrying aspect of this whole episode is that there was little or no security on hand to assist the unfortunate match official, who had great difficulty getting to the dressing room.

Some people were standing around watching this unfold and offering no help.

Another disturbing aspect is that someone was actually filming this for mass consumption – the incident appeared on social media within minutes of it happening.

Is there some glory to be gained from this? Is there some kind of perverse pleasure to be gained from watching this brutal assault? Are some people now down to the level that they can get enjoyment out of watching such brutality?

What have we come to? Is this the face of our football today? Are we now back in the “bad old days”, when match officials used to take their very lives in their hands (and some have) just for the sake of officiating at a football match?

I have so many questions, rhetorical and real, that I could fill a whole column or more, but I am probably wasting my time.

The powers that be have to look themselves in the mirror and ask these questions: Why is this happening? What can be done to prevent such happenings, and what assurances can we give to middlemen and their assistants that they will be safe when carrying out their duties at football games?

I was also assaulted some years ago in the then National Soccer League in Mthatha, Eastern Cape, and, were it not for the timely intervention of the late Kaizer Chiefs director Clarence Mlokoti, I might not be writing this article today.

It was at the end of a BP Top 8 quarterfinal match between the then Umtata Bush Bucks and Fairway Stars. Anyone who refereed at Independence Stadium will know that the tension could be electric and some fans were quite volatile.

It takes a lot of guts to referee in such an intimidating atmosphere, but the referee security was always good and allowed us to do our jobs safe in the knowledge that we would be protected before, during and after the game.

Thankfully, in my situation, it was just one hothead who managed to get onto the field as we were walking off at full time and punched me on the back of the head. I did not suffer any serious injury, thank goodness, but it’s a sign of what can happen if there is no security, as in Phungula’s case.

There are more questions that need to be asked with regard to the ABC Motsepe League game, such as: Whose job was it to protect the referee and his assistants in Chatsworth? If there was no one, then the home team is responsible for the safety and security of the match officials. Where were they?

And where were the police when all this was happening?

I would encourage the referee to seek legal advice to bring these thugs masquerading as soccer supporters – and perhaps club officials, too – to justice.

Not that long ago, I wrote an article about a referee in Ireland who was attacked after a game and suffered severe lacerations to his face.

He also had a broken nose, a broken eye socket and a broken jaw.

Thankfully, he survived, but he spent some time in hospital recovering.

Is this the new face of soccer when it comes to authority? I hope not because the limited number of match officials currently available will quickly dwindle, and then what?

As a fan, club official or player, always remember that no ref means no game.

Happy whistling!

. sports@citypress.co.za

. Follow me on Twitter @dr_errol

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