Thursday, November 25, 2010

Kerrzy’s Notebook: Scotland's Refs Strike!

It’s setting up to be an interesting weekend in the Scottish Premier League...

The country’s Football Association says the show must go on, despite the league’s top referees going on strike over the criticism and abuse they say they are taking on a weekly basis

The SFA, the SPL and the Scottish Football League issued a joint statement today, throwing their full support behind Category 1 Referees and announcing new rules aimed at cutting down the amount of garbage thrown their way. There will now be “immediate” punishment for “players and club officials who abuse referees and match officials, and especially those who challenge their integrity and honesty.”

The last-ditch effort to get the whistle-blowers back on board for this weekend didn’t work though, as they voted on Wednesday night to take strike action anyway.

Where does that leave this weekend’s SPL fixtures? Well the FA has been poking around Europe trying to line up some replacement refs for Saturday and Sunday, but so far they’ve come up dry.

Sky Sports reports that Iceland seemed keen to help out, that is, until they spoke with their “Scottish colleagues.”

The move to strike comes after weeks of build-up in the Scottish media, kicked off by one game in particular a few weeks ago. Referee Dougie McDonald gave a penalty kick to Celtic, who were playing Dundee United at Tannadice, changed his mind and then later admitted that he lied to Celtic manager Neil Lennon about why the penalty was taken away.

For his part, Lennon says he may have crossed the line “once or twice” when it comes to his sideline conduct this season, but that people often “exaggerate [his] behavior.”

Obviously this whole thing doesn’t come down to that one incident, but the referees are implying that it was the ‘straw that broke the camels back,’ so to speak. The refs say they feel that they’re unfairly criticized year after year by players, managers and the media alike, and they are finally trying to do something about it.

It must be hard for teams to keep their mouths shut though when they feel like the officiating is sub-standard and then they read stuff in the papers like “four-of-five ‘top refs’ fail an SFA exam on the laws of the game!”

Aren’t referees essentially paid to have a deeper and better knowledge of the rules than anyone else?

The Daily Record reported last weekend that only five of the 31 “Category One” officials passed the 30-question test. Granted, it’s not as bad as it sounds, because to “pass” you had to score an 80%. Still though, it’s not great press for a group that definitely doesn’t need that type of negative attention.

The league and the FA can censor the teams quite easily by teaching them to bite their tongues through various sanctions, but as for the media, good luck!

What else is there to say? If you'd like to know what I think, here it is:

Taking abuse is part of being a referee, just like dealing with bad referees is part of playing a sport. I’m sorry, but it’s true. If I go and play men’s league hockey, I expect the officiating to be of a certain caliber. At the top level, I expect the officiating to be as good as it can possibly be. Anything less is unacceptable.

Perceived bias can be worse than an actual ‘out in the open’ bias. This is something referees, especially in a country like Scotland, will fight until the end of time. If you can’t call a game without being impartial, you shouldn’t be on the field but some guys make it tough on themselves by messing up over and over again against the same team. This only puts every future call under a microscope for the players, coaches and fans of that team!

Inconsistency is the worst quality a referee can have – the refs that get the most respect from players, at any level, are the ones that are easy to read. If you’re a guy that calls everything by the book, then call everything by the book. If you’re a no-nonsense, ‘let them play’ style ref, then let them play. When things are consistent, players and coaches adjust and everyone is on the same page.

Last, but not least, don’t lie. If you make a mistake, admit you made a mistake. If, as a referee, you start lying and get caught out, it takes away from your credibility. That takes us back to the point about perceived bias. Maybe you only covered up that one mistake and you’ve learned your lesson, but maybe you make a habit of that type of behavior. Only you know for sure, but there are millions of people watching you and making up their own minds.

The referee/player relationship is a two-way street but if the players, coaches and fans don’t respect the officials, this culture of criticism and abuse will never change.

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