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Why foreign referees?

I recently watched the Asia Trophy competition on television. The tournament consisted of four teams from the Premiership in England – Liverpool, Leicester City, West Bromwich Albion (WBA), and Crystal Palace.

It was a good tournament hosted by the Hong Kong FA, with some excellent football played. The eventual winners were Liverpool, who beat Leicester City 2 – 1 in the final.

Now this is where I have a gripe. The match officials were, for the most part, also from England, with regular premier league referee Bobby Madely taking charge of the final.

He had one assistant referee from England with the remaining two officials, the second assistant referee, and the fourth official, who was a female, both from Hong Kong. That was the good news. The less said about the rest the better.

Why? Well if the authorities are going to parachute referees in from outside, how are the local guys and gals going to get a chance of some real action?

It has to be said that there was a middleman from Hong Kong in the third/fourth place playoff between Crystal Palace and West Bromwich Albion (WBA).

He did well but, in my opinion, he was a little lenient on certain fouls and indiscretions. But then his more illustrious colleague in the final was also lenient and didn’t cover himself in glory with the now familiar patronising attitude to the superstars, who swan around like they are invincible and immune from sanction when they misbehave.

The Professional Games Match Officials Limited (PGMOL), the body that controls referees and assistant referees in England for the Premiership, the Championship (second tier of football in England) and the FA Cup competition, regularly send senior match officials to Hong Kong to train and mentor the locals in the art of officiating. They need to look at themselves first, in my opinion.

Hong Kong is not a big country and is now controlled, politically, by China.

Every country has its own Fifa-accredited referees and assistant referees. All are of a certain standard that allows them to handle international games up to World Cup level.

So if they are good enough to handle such games;

  • Why are they not good enough to handle a summer competition, albeit competitively contested by the teams?
  • Why are they being overlooked for these games?
  • Why are they not being given the opportunity to gain much needed experience at such level?

I have long been an advocate of “local is lekker” and giving every chance to the home match officials to prove their worth.

When I went to South Africa in 1985 I was given such a chance and grabbed it with both hands, firstly as an assistant (or linesman as we used to be known) and then in the middle because another referee couldn’t make it and I was called in to referee at the last minute.

I remember the game well. It was a BOB Save Super Bowl quarterfinal replay between Vaal Reefs and Bloemfontein Celtic at Vaal Reefs.

Meanwhile, on another channel today, I watched a game between Arsenal and Chelsea from the “Birds Nest” stadium in Beijing, China.

There was a local Chinese referee in charge. In fact, all the officials were Chinese and, regardless of what you may think of his performance, it was no better or worse than more experienced referees with years of top levels games under their belt.

My main gripe is that local referees should be given every opportunity to develop and grow with so-called top games.

  • How else will they develop?
  • How else will they grow in confidence?
  • How else will they gain much-needed experience if they are not given the chance?

I appeal to the organisers of such competitions to work towards showing off their own officials by putting them in at the deep end.

I would have every confidence in their ability to get through the 90 minutes successfully.

Such a positive action will inspire other boys and girls to get involved. It will bring much-needed attention to the local officials and it will boost the confidence of the people charged with officiating at a higher level.

Happy whistling
Dr Errol Sweeney
Twitter – dr_errol

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