By Walter Broeckx
Warning: this article contains insulting and abusive language.
In this article I will try to give an answer on Tony’s question: “can you send a player off for calling the ref a crook and a scoundrel and a shameless bastard?”
This is a very difficult question to answer. There is not a list with allowed and not allowed words. In short the instructions are…it’s up to you as a ref. So telling a ref he is a crook can have you sent off by ref A and not by ref B. As you can understand this is deadly for the consistency in refereeing.
We have had this discussion between refs a few times at several meetings. We asked our FA what we can allow and what not. And at the end of the meeting this is what we could conclude on the topic of verbal abuse. So walk with me through the wonderful world of verbal abuse that refs have or can face at times.
Physical threats are not acceptable: red card. If you tell a ref “I’m going to punch you in the face” or ‘I will kick you in your nuts”; you must send him off. There is no doubt about those things. You don’t touch the ref and you also don’t tell him that you will touch him in a threatening way.
Personal insults about your physical appearance is very much up to the ref. If you are bald and they call you bald you must make up your own mind if it is an insult or not. For some people who feel bad about losing their hair it can be an insult. For people who shave their head bold it will maybe not be an insult. If they call me grey I don’t think it is an insult because most of my hair that is left is actually grey.
But if a player says : “you fat, ugly, stinking, gray cunt of a ref”; he would get a red card.
Just saying one word that could be considered abusive is something that can be said in the heat of the moment without really malicious intent. But if the player comes up with a string of personal insults it is something that is not acceptable anymore and is not something that just could be a slip of the tongue.
Insults to your family are totally unacceptable. If a player said to me: “your mother is a whore” or “I fucked your wife and she was as bad in bed as you are as a ref”. RED CARD. You leave the ref his family out of it.
Wishing someone a disease… If someone wishes me a good cold I would sniff it away. But if someone said, ‘I hope you get cancer’ he would go. The boarder line here is which disease they wish you get, is it a minor disease or a bad and possible deadly disease? A disease that is often used in abuse is Aids.
Wishing your family a disease: They mostly wish your wife or children to get cancer if they do so, no arguments send him off. Like I said before leave the family out of it. You can imagine that this also could be very hurting at times. Imagine if your mother or father recently died of cancer and if they would say something like that. So totally unacceptable.
Sexual insults like giving you names that refer to intimate body parts are sometimes a bit more difficult. I think we all have some words we sometimes use in our daily life that could be considered as insulting but also are used to express some kind of frustration without meaning it as an insult.
We have in Dutch a word that was originally given to a very intimate part of the woman’s body but during the last decades it has become a word that is often used when something goes wrong. So if a player shouts that word I let it go as I don’t have that body part and most of the times it is just to ventilate some frustration.
About sexual preferences from the ref you don’t have to accept anything. I have never been called gay or referred to as a man who is visiting whores but they can leave my sex live out of my refereeing life. A ref’s sex live is private and is not part of the game.
Racist abuse is also not acceptable. But in Belgium you have to be careful when you are a ref and have your origins in Africa. For as long as I can remember the most used verbal abuse against a ref is “vuile zwarte” or translated in English : “dirty black”. This is a thing that goes back to the days that refs only had black shirts and the days that in Belgium all refs where rather pale skinned.
So if they shout this to me it doesn’t affect me. My skin is white and I know that they point at the old colour of my shirt. But I can imagine that my colleagues who come original from Africa have a different reaction to those words.
These examples are things that have been said to refs on the field. It’s important to take in account the circumstances and the emotions of the game. But the general rule is that from the moment you feel insulted as a ref you have the right to give a red card.
But would I sent a player off when he calls me a crook? No, I don’t think so.
Would I sent a player off when he calls me a scoundrel? No, I don’t think so.
Would I sent a player of when he calls me a shameless bastard? Yes, as this is insulting for my family.
Would I sent a player off that calls me a crook, a scoundrel and a shameless bastard in one sentence: He will see the red card flashing before his eyes, you can be sure of that.
As a player you can be frustrated, you can be angry with a decision you feel is not correct. You can even let of some steam, you can swear, you can even say some names to the ref. But when you pass the line and show you don’t respect the ref as a human being or show no respect to the ref and his family, you must leave the field.
I sometimes tell a player when he really is annoyed and doesn’t agree with my decision, that football is a sport where the ref has the final decision on the field. And that if he cannot accept this he should go and find himself a sport where there is no ref to make the final decision or tell him that he can always become a ref himself and make the right decisions.
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