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Football clubs in Greece’s Super League 1 are now playing all their matches without fans – the ruling continues at least until mid-February. The government is demanding that football clubs install electronic identification systems for everyone in the stadia.
This followed an incident in which a 19 year old fan was killed after a match earlier this season. Meanwhile, Greek referees have started a boycott of games in which they consider their working conditions are too dangerous.
The government has threatened that the ban on fans which ends on 12 February will be extended if the football clubs have not taken suitable steps to prevent further problems by then.
Clearly the situation in Premier League matches is different, and most assaults here are on opposition players (such as that of Joseph Watts who pleaded guilty to assault by beating after attacking the Aaron Ramsdale at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium) not referees. But anger against referees in particular is growing and the anger that appeared to be expressed by Erling Haaland as he addressed referee Simon Hooper in the Manchester City v Tottenham Hotspur game on 3 December was widely shown in the media.
Now because of the actions of PGMO which bans referees from talking to the media, and now even goes so far as to tell referees who is to drive them to and from each ground and in which car, we don’t get any information about referees and their experiences. PGMO’s view seems to be that if they get the media to stay quiet the problem will go away.
But the Independent recently reminded us of a BBC survey which found that 22 percent of referees across all levels of football agreed that they were verbally abused in every match. 60 percent said they were abused at least in every other match, and 20 percent said that they had been physically assaulted by players at some stage in their careers. In some cases charges were pressed.
The situation has worsened, as it seems many people now take to social media to abuse the referee and sometimes the referee’s family. And it is not just happening in football, but also in rugby – the supposedly gentleman’s game.
Much of this is well known, but the point was made in the article noted that Jose Mourinho waged an “ongoing campaign” against the referee Anthony Taylor from 2013 onward until ultimately he got nothing more than a four-match ban as a result. And it took them long enough to notice the campaign was afoot.
So is not surprising that Uefa now finds itself short of referees. But who is to blame for this mess?
In looking at this I am reminded of the 12 match ban PGMO gave to Arsene Wenger in 2000 That was thrown out on appeal and eventually the referee in that case (Mr Taylor) himself was charged with misconduct for insulting comments in a later match.
Move forward 11 years and Mr Wenger was charged with improper conduct by Uefa in relation to comments made about Massimo Busacca, the ref in a game in which Barcelona defeated Arsenal. He was fined €10,000 and suspended for one match; however, the ban was later extended to a further two games, after Mr Wenger was found guilty of communicating with Arsenal’s bench while serving a touchline ban against Udinese. Mr Wenger made the point that he was never forbidden from doing this in the original punishment, a point Uefa never answered, and on which they allowed no appeal. Such cases do not help the notion that all is fair and above board.
Now these are just a few examples of PGMO behaviour in relation to Arsenal. Imagine how many we would find if we had the resources that scour all the activities of PGMO.
But we can’t, because PGMO remains above the law and somehow have got the agreement of the media that the referee is never to be questioned. So there is no proper debate, and we have no access to their archives which would allow us to question what they are up to.
Now that ludicrous situation does not excuse attacks on referees across the country, but to some degree, it explains it. We have all seen errors by referees, but know that there is no form of proper appeal. Likewise, we know that Mourinho’s constant attacks on referees were treated in a totally different way from Wenger’s.
I don’t think it is beyond the bounds of possibility that the god-like status given to PGMO and its staff, removing them from questioning, no matter what they do, is at the heart of the growing problem with referees in the Premier League.
But it is only part of the issue – because at the same time we still have difficulty in understanding what they are doing on the pitch.
This season we have some referees handing out over 5.3 yellow per game. Although other regular PL referees hand out around 3.1 cards per game. Which is to say some referees are handing out over 70% more cards in a game than others. And no one is asking why.
Nothing excuses violence against referees. But equally, nothing excuses the behaviour of PGMO with its devotion to secrecy and its record of protecting the incompetent and downright untrustworthy.
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