GIVE REFEREES A BREAK!

I was once at the Accra Sports Stadium to watch a football match. As it was, or perhaps still is the case for journalists who want to catch pronto post-match interviews with players and coaches, I moved down from the VIP section into the stands near the dug-out ten minutes to the end of the match. I sat among some die-hard fans. Then, there was an offside call from the assistant referee, who raised his flag, and then in obliqueness, pointed straight to the ground. Two players appeared to be in offside positions – one far from where the assistant referee was and the other nearer him. Suddenly, an argument cranked up among two of the fans seated near me regarding which of the two players was REALLY in the offside position. I watched them with a lusting temptation to wade in as they argued their stances out. I finally decided to take this opportunity to educate these two fans on some of the gestures performed by assistant referees with their flags. And these carry meanings!

I told them if an assistant referee raises a flag to signal an offside, he has three options of directing his flag. The first is directing it above himself into the air in an oblique, or should I say an obtuse angle stretch. This means the player caught in the offside position is far from the assistant referee. He is a player playing at the other end of the field to directly opposite the assistant referee. The second option is pointing the flag in a perpendicular direction right in front of him. He holds the flag straight like a ramrod. This means the player who fell into the offside trap set by the defense of his opponents is in the centre of the stretch of field from where the assistant referee is facing. The third option, which was what happened that day, is when an assistant referee points to the ground in front of him in a diagonal, and I daresay acute angle position. This means the player in the offside trap is the one nearest the assistant referee. Therefore, in the case of what happened at the Accra Sports Stadium that day, I showed the two fans, who were suddenly keenly listening to my lectures, the particular player in the offside position. Fortunately, not long after that, there was another offside call and they decided to watch the assistant referee, who made the second gesture illustrated above. The fans hastily and rightly told me the player caught in the offside trap. They started nodding! Before I left into the inner perimeter to conduct my interviews, these two fans could not stop inundating me with gratitude for making it simpler for them in recognizing players in offside positions. They hitherto did not know that there was any significance in the flag-raising gestures of he assistant referees.

Football Fanatics

I must state that the two football fanatics are not the only ones who are ignorant of the laws of the game. There is a marginal number of football fanatics who cannot even differentiate an indirect kick from a free kick for example. At the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations during a match between co-hosts Equatorial Guinea and Zambia, the goalkeeper of the Nzalang Nacional, Danilo, incurred an infringement amounting to an indirect kick in the penalty area. He handled a backpass. I was watching that game with a friend, who asked what would be the immediate decision to be taken by the referee. Before my friend had finished asking his question, I shouted I-N-D-I-R-E-C-T!!! Surprisingly, my friend did not even know what an indirect kick was.

So many football fanatics in Ghana have little knowledge of the football laws and yet sound loudest and scream at referees when decisions do not go in their favour. Easy as it may seem watching from the sidelines, or most probably from television tubes, refereeing is a hard job. Interpreting laws in a split second is not an easy task. It is even tougher for referees in this part of the world who seem to be lagging behind in terms of modern accessories which aid in the effective discharge of duties.

Manual age

Referees in the Ghanaian Premier League are still in the manual ages of running diagonally the field with their eyes fixed on both the action and their assistants. This is becoming a thing of the past in football. Referees now have their eyes fixed on the action while their ears are given to the assistant and the fourth referees, who intermittently call the shots with radio communication systems(RCS). Even that co-ordinated duty has been beefed up now with two additional referees behind the goalposts who also call the shots via the RCS. All these hi-tech facilities are yet to reach the Ghanaian terrain and I wonder the number of Ghanaian referees who have even used them before. Thus, it will be virtually impossible to have perfect refereeing at our stadia.

Week 19 fixtures of the Ghanaian Premier League saw patches of hooliganism at some venues. Bizarrely, in an interview on television, J.E. Sarpong, coach of Liberty Professionals in venting his frustrations at a 2-2 draw with New Edubiase, remarked that one day he will not be surprised to see a referee shot at. This is unwelcoming! While coaches are given opportunities to refresh themselves by way of courses to catch up with the modern trends in the field, referees languish by continuing to work manually. What J.E. Sarpong should have been calling for is refresher courses for Ghanaian referees to keep up with the global trend of refereeing. I was much more disgusted to hear a high official of a premier league club justifying the actions of supporters, or should I say hooligans, after they assaulted a referee after they lost a match at home. Why do clubs always want to blame referees for poor performances on the field. I am not holding breath for referees but I think it is high time all and sundry learned the laws of the game, and by extension educate fanatics and supporters alike as to the interpretation of these laws on the filed of play.

It appears simple on television as a dim line marks a player’s offside positioning for example. But what fans should know is that that technique is absent on the field of play. The referee has only a split second to take a decision and he or she lives by that decision in the game. He runs together with the players and does not have the advantage of watching from the way we all do in the comfort of our living rooms. The centre referee is only helped by his assistants. Therefore, it is important for them to be given the benefit of the doubt. However, this does not mean the knights of the whistle have the liberty to make egregious mistakes. They have to be corrected but not in the way we have seen lately. Some of the whistles and decisions are unpardonable and most referees often show remorse when shown clips of their own performances.

Indeed, with the scarcity of resources, the Ghanaian referee has to be efficient. The Ghanaian referee must temporarily resign to his current fate and discharge duties efficiently and effectively as we call on the Premier League Board and the Referees Association of Ghana to take keen interest in introducing modern standards of refereeing into the local game. I must be quick to mention that the human face of officiating cannot be totally obliterated from the game. In other words, even if a referee gets all the accessories he wants but whistles at odd times during a match, there is bound to be a distraction. We need Ghanaian referees AGAIN at continental and global levels. We have to give them our support as they must also try to be efficient and effective on the field of play.

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By Kwame

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