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October 2020

Discrimination among referees: it does not have to be done this way

By Walter Broeckx

Following up on the excellent article from Proudkev I want to show you how things are done in a country that has a real divide in it and how they do take notice of spreading referees on a fair way for everyone.

As you may know I come from the country known as Belgium (which doesn’t have a good name lately but hey…) What many people don’t know about Belgium is that in fact we are a much divided country. I’m not going too much into local politics but during the 70s and 80s our country was becoming uncontrollable for any government. The reason was the fact that we have two (in fact 3 but I will keep it simple) official languages and both sets of politicians had different interests. All trying to favour their own region of the country.

So they split Belgium up in 3 communities (Flemish – Walloon – German speaking part)  with each having their own parliament and government and on top of that we still have a national government and parliament. Complicated? Yes but don’t worry this is Belgium and nothing is easy.  The only thing people in Belgium really unite about are the red devils, the national football team and only now when they are successful. Because when they were rubbish just a few years ago nobody went to see them and they played in front of not even half filled stadiums. Even going to smaller grounds with capacities of around 15.000 still couldn’t hide the big gaps in the stands.

But let me come to the real point I want to make: referees in Belgium.

Because of the fact that each part of the country is quick to find themselves “discriminated” against (and I use this word with caution) by the other part of the country this also applies very much to football and for the supporters.

I still remember when my local team (Berchem Sport) then in the first division had a captain who was only a part timer. Our local boy (lived around the corner from where I lived) was a plumber in his daily job. And he could hardly speak French as he had gone to a technical school where French was the least of their worries. But when being captain he complained on more than one occasion that he had to go in to the dressing room of the referee before the match to sign the papers and then as was usual in those days referees would give a short set of instructions to the captains. But when we had a French referee he hardly could understand what he was talking about. Leading to misunderstandings on more than one occasion when he couldn’t brief the instructions to his teammates.  Leading to frustration with supporters and … well you get the picture: difficult to please everyone because of the language barrier.

So how is the Belgian FA (KBVB) making sure that all the teams in each part of the country will feel that there is no difference between both parts?

Well the first thing they do is that for a league with 16 teams they have 21 referees. 21! Twenty one!!! We have 8 matches each weekend and we have 21 referees. In the PL we have 10 matches and we have 15 referees if all are fit more or less. So you will not see the same refs over and over and over and over again as we have in the PL. Because in Belgium they know that sending the ref too much for the same teams might lead to trouble after a while.

But when we have a look at the way the referees are selected from the different parts of the country we see that the Belgian FA tries to do this in a fair way for both parts.

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In Belgium we have around 60% of the people who speak Dutch (Flemish), 40% speak French and we also have a very small minority of around 0.7 % who speak German.

So from those 21 refs we have 7 Fifa refs. 3 Speak Flemish and 4 speak French. From the other non-fifa refs we have 8 who speak Flemish and 6 who speak French. And if we put all of them together we have 11 refs from the Flemish part of the country and 10 from the Walloon part of the country.

If we put that in percentage terms we get some 52% Flemish speaking refs and 48% French speaking refs. Not really completely in line with what we should get if we would divide it strictly but that is also the norm for everything in Belgium so we are already happy to have more than 50% of the refs who speak Flemish. It used to be completely different some 30-40 years ago.

But looking at those numbers it shows that the Belgian FA is trying to do their best to make sure that all parts of the country get their fair share of referees and that nobody has to feel discriminated against.  They try to keep the balance between the different parts of the country as balanced as can be.  And there is no difference between the way the laws on the field are interpreted by the refs from the different parts of the country. They all get the same instructions and explanations.

A balance that is completely missing if we look at the referees who do the PL matches.  As has been shown before no refs from a part of the country that has around one third of the population in England is somehow very strange and bizarre.  I wonder what would be said if people in that third of the country would have a green skin…. Would this be ignored then as it is now?

Football organisations should be alert to any possible discrimination and now it looks as if people from the London area and the South of England are not taken seriously by the people who have the power in the referee land of football. In my country our FA is doing all they can to make sure nobody has to feel discriminated against and is doing a rather good job (still plenty points to criticise them for the rest though…). So why can’t the English FA, the PGMO and the PL look in to this possible discrimination of referees from London and the South of England?

More anniversaries…

  • 10 December 1932: Arsenal 4 Chelsea 1, the West Stand (costing £45,000) opened by Prince of Wales (although it had been used by the public for several games before this). This game was part of a 20 match sequence in which Arsenal lost 2, drew 2 and won 16.
  • 10 December 2006: Chelsea 1 Arsenal 1 – the first meeting after Cole’s acrimonious transfer.  Cole is quoted as saying, “It’s never been about money.  For me it is about respect”.

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16 comments to Discrimination among referees: it does not have to be done this way

  • Andy Mack

    I suspect that a few of (maybe most of) the Belgian refs are actually pretty bilingual.
    We usually have one of the 4 officials to translate for Geordie refs … (it a joke!… possibly a bad one, but a joke!).

  • Usama Zaka

    Nicely structured article Walter. Its good to see Belgium is keeping it fair for all people involved in refereeing.

    Many countries are divided within themselves just like Belgium as you mentioned Walter, due to language being a key reason. For example, me as a Pakistani can share the same feeling. Pakistan is separated in to 4 big parts.

    1. The Pashtuns/Pakhtuns – They speak Pashto and this language has more than 10 variations of its own, leading to more division in communities.

    2. The Sindhis – They speak Sindhi.

    3. The Punjabis – They speak Punjabi with numerous variations of its own, again leading to more division.

    4. The Balochis – They speak Balochi and are by far the most neglected people in Pakistan (by Govt.) creating even more divisons.

    Now one would think that with Urdu as the lingua franca (common language) of Pakistan, these problems should not exist. But they still do. Urdu is the language that was formed for this very reason to unite all the people within the region. It was created from a mixture of Arabic, Turkish, Persian, Punjabi, Pashto, and Sanskrit. I better stop here because it might take up the whole page. Apologies 🙂

    P.S Walter, I am currently studying French by myself right now for quite sometime, and will soon start the basic levels of Dutch.

  • WalterBroeckx

    Wow Usama that is interesting. I never knew that…
    I know from time to time it can lead to frictions between the different communities but at least in Belgium we are blessed that we don’t have bloody (in the bloody sense) arguments and fight it out on the streets. Luckily….

    The way I look at it is that as you show yourself, people who come from countries with more languages than just the one are much more open and willing to learn other languages. Mind you Dutch is a difficult language to learn but let that not hold you back 🙂 Because even the kids from 2-3 year know how to speak it over here. (a joke – as Andy writes…possibly a bad one, but a joke!) 🙂

    I think if you have only one language and if that language is used world wide the will to learn another language is very low. And that is maybe understandable. If I were English I wouldn’t feel the need to learn something else. As Dutch(Flemish) speaking person I do feel the need from the moment I go East-South-West after driving one hour.

  • Usama Zaka

    Thanks Walter, Dutch language has a big structure and is interesting. As a little bit goal of mine is that to get myself accomplished in different languages. Not only it gives you confidence, good recognition in society and personal accomplishment, but also provides you with an improved ability of expression and communication.

    As I am working in the Aviation field, in the aircraft hangars, the need for good communication is very important. There are technicians and engineers from all over the world. Yes its a need for everyone to be good in English but knowing a different language helps a lot of people in environments such as Airports and Terminals.

    Languages with Latin script often takes less time to learn than languages with completely different script. For example Japanese, Arabic, Chinese, Russian and Greek.

  • Gord

    Languages (apparently) leave an influence on the people that use them. Many languages consist of huge numbers of glyphs, and to construct phrases is to properly pick and choose amongst large numbers of concepts. It seems that people who speak languages like that, become good at things like reverse engineering. Languages with small numbers of glyphs, require people to become good at synthesizing new concepts. Which is useful to people who invent.

    Or that is one opinion I have run across.

  • Gord

    Aviation and communication. Good communication is important. The higher the probability of failure, usually the fewer languages in active use. I believe in space, nearly all development is done in English, or possibly English and Russian. Except for Canada, which requires French (France doesn’t require French (or didn’t used to), it used English).

  • Andy Mack

    As a ‘brit’ I can assure you that everyone wants to learn English purely because it the language of America (although Spanish is doing rather well there again now).
    Having said that, My father learnt Latin at school which allowed him to learn fluent French, German, Italian, Decent Spanish, Portuguese and a smattering of a few more (inc Dutch). The problem is to learn the 1st ‘second language’ whilst your young which allows your brain to compartmentalise languages. I was far too old when I put real effort in and never got beyond food and drink despite living in Germany for a while…

  • omgarsenal

    Walter (and Gord, being a fellow Canadian))….we have a miniature version of your situation here in Canada. I live in Quebec, which is 99% French-speaking but the remainder of the other 9 provinces and 2 territories generally speak English or Inuktitut (Eskimo).
    When I was a national referee for Canada, we had 3-5 from each province and had at least 1-2 FIFA referees from across Canada, except for the Maritime provinces and the 2 Northern territories. The language of officiating outside Quebec was English but French in Quebec. Most if not all of our Québec referees were either Anglophones or non-French Quebecers, because at that time, most French Canadians chose hockey over soccer. I would always give my instructions to my assistants in both languages unless I knew they were competent in English. The cultural and intellectual division between Quebecers and the rest of Canada, like in Belgium, has led to some serious confrontations lately. Quebec used to be a very religious community but has become so secular and somewhat chauvinistic in recent times and the Quebec FA almost got kicked out of the Canadian FA because it wanted to ban the wearing of hijabs for female players and turbans for Sikh men…..but the Canadian FA prevailed.
    My only experience in Belgium was when I went to a primarily Flemish speaking area and in a grocery store, tried to speak French to the clerk. She spoke back in Flemish (I was with a Dutch speaker so she translated)and was rather rude about the Walloons! Other than that I loved Belgium and maybe someday I’ll get to meet you and your family and we can officiate a game together!

  • nicky

    While any post of yours about your homeland is of valued interest, the city of Brussels and particularly the idiots of the EU is/are not on my Christmas Card list.
    The latest edict with effect from last January is that all coffeemakers must have an automatic shutdown after around 35 to 41 minutes (to save energy).
    This means that a really early percolated coffee in the morning is lukewarm by breakfast time.
    Could you help me by starting a movement to remove the EU from Brussels.
    My respects to Madame and trust she is well. 😉

  • proudkev

    Evening Walter, great article.

    As I said when I wrote my own piece, the inbalance in the referees in England is bizarre. Not just North vs South but the fact 1 in 3 refs are from a region – the North West

    Now we know that in England the FA are repsonsibility for our referees including their training and the merit tables. Keith Hackett has agreed there is a problem but that it is not one of discimination. He claims it is down ‘training’. This indicates a manipulation of the rules, the ‘interpretation I wrote about. Southern refs need to be trained not on how to be a referee but on how to ‘interpret’ the rules.

    Is this the same in Belgium? Is there a particular way the rules are interpreted that is different to the UK? Is this regional?

    Be interested to compare. I would also ask, does that affect your own reviews you undertake for Untold – for example are you interpreting the rules differently to how the English refs have been ‘trained’?


  • proudkev

    ..are responsible.

  • WalterBroeckx


    Usually you cannot tell if a ref is Flemish or is a Walloon ref. Well I can’t. So our FA seems to have worked out how to train both parts of the country in the same way even when they speak a different language.

    Now I’m not saying that our referees are of high quality compared to English referees but they do apply the laws of the games in a different way than PL referees do. That is something I can see after 5 minutes in any match.
    And I don’t see that difference when I see German, Dutch, French or Italian refs do their matches. They are like the Belgian refs.

    So the FA being one of the leading members of FIBA (where the laws and the interpretation is being decided) are the ones who have a different interpretation of the laws of the game…. strange isn’t it?

  • Ray from Norfolk, Virginia

    I am not Lebanese, but I grew up in Lebanon.
    The Lebanese parliament is divided according to a consocional system.
    You would love it. Somehow, the Ottoman and French influences did it.

  • proudkev

    Walter, thanks for your comments.

    As we both agree, it is very strange that the FA have decided to take the rules of the game and interpret them differently to the way they are adhered to in the continent. The fact that this interpretation is also regional in England and something the FA and PGMOL have acknowledged is interesting, especially the fact they have chosen to do nothing about it.

    Someone still has to explain to me what the regional ‘training issue’ is that Keith Hackett refereed to.

  • Gord

    I think it would do a world of good, for whatever your government body is called that looks into worker safety issues, to publically announce that they are investigating Moss’s actions and inactions in the 2 out of bounds incidents involving Arsenal.

    They don’t have to throw Moss in jail for a few months, I think the possibility is sufficient.

    I think this would wake up The FA and the Premier League to the idea that they cannot continue to manage officiating as they have been.

    Which would probably have some affect on this discrimination issue.

  • Sam Sayyed


    As I must’ve mentioned in one of my earlier post, I am sharing a season ticket at Arsenal (actually 3 of us are sharing two season tickets between us).

    Is there any chance of meeting up for a pre-match drink to meet up with you and the other good guys frequenting Untold Arsenal who happen to be attending a home game? As they say, it would be good to put a name to the face.