So proclaims the Guardian in a piece that reports on “Calls for tougher sanctions against those who abuse or attack match officials as the number of incidents continues to rise.”
And some of the reporting is appalling and shocking, with players assaulting referees because they don’t like the decisions made. They also note in what is a long and detailed report that “Last season 380 players were banned by the FA for attacking or threatening match officials.”
Indeed they also report that, “The Merseyside Youth League cancelled a round of fixtures last weekend in response to ‘multiple incidents of inappropriate and threatening behaviour’ on the part not of players but those watching from the sidelines.”
Apparently, the number of incidents is rising all the time, and there are campaigns afoot to make people aware that this level of assault (in fact one could say any level of assault) means that football is in danger of losing its referees.
But as ever with such reports, the commentary tends to ignore one question: “Why?” In this case, why are the attacks on referees increasing?
The issue is of course incredibly serious, for “Referees have been killed after players took issue with their decisions in Canada and El Salvador this year, and Dr Jamie Cleland (an academic who conducts research into socio-cultural issues in sport) has argued that “the tribal nature of football – amongst players, supporters and even parents – means officials are considered legitimate targets.”
And maybe that is the explanation – the tribalism. Cleland also argues that punishment should be greater for those who attack referees with “some form of sanction for the player, coach or club,”
Thus as is so often the case with crimes, the focus is on more and more punishment, rather than any understanding of why the crimes are committed. And yet when the “why?” question is tackled it is often the case that we can understand what response will actually stop the violence.
Of course, many people decry any attempt to look at the “why?” question arguing that looking for a reason is akin to excusing the perpetrator of the crime. But such a view is generally merely part of the everyday attack on anyone that seeks to understand reasons for human behaviour and has now become part of the media’s daily routine.
Understanding why, however, does help us learn and can lead to much quicker solutions to problems.
In the case of refereeing it is quite possible to put forward a case that the secrecy that is at the heart of refereeing in England is a part of the cause.
Generally speaking, people don’t like being excluded and disempowered, and secret societies most certainly do generate a feeling of exclusion and disempowerment.
And it cannot be denied that in terms of the most visible referees in the country – those running Premier League matches – they are part of a fanatically secret society, the PGMO. They have no website, they don’t explain what they do, and their activities result in the most extraordinary statistics that one can imagine.
Indeed it was only yesterday that we ran the piece, How today’s referee, Mr Jones, constantly rules in favour of the home team.
The favouritism of the home team by Mr Jones, we pointed out, is in contrast to the favouritism of the away team by someone like Craig Pawson who really doesn’t seem to like home teams very much at all.
Now the fact that some referees oversee home victories so very, very much more than others, may well be simply a result of the matches that they get given. Or maybe there is some other reason.
But the fact is that the extraordinary levels that the PGMO go to to keep themselves secret mean that the issue is not being recognised as an issue, let alone be discussed.
And at this point some of the blame has to be shared with the media in England – a media that either will not or (because of some unknown PGMO diktat) cannot, comment on these extraordinary facts and figures.
And this is not just an Arsenal thing. We really do need to have the PGMO come out and explain how it can possibly be that the players of Crystal Palace are fouled twice as much as the players of Manchester United.
Or how Arsenal players will be fouled 42% more than Tottenham players in Premier League games.
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