For decades football has struggled to attract referees and keep hold of them. In recent times it is not the only sport to find themselves in this position.
One of the main reasons umpires and referees walk away from the game is because players, coaches and parents fail to respect them for the job that they do. Many suffer outrageous abuse of both a physical and verbal nature. Which should have been stamped out before it reached the current level, but many sports administrators have either lacked the courage to take a stand, or were at a loss as to what to do.
One tactic used by players is to surround the referee or umpire in numbers to try and intimidate and influence a decision or future decisions. Sir Alex Ferguson’s Aberdeen and Manchester United were famous for such tactics, and to be honest they did on occasion pay dividends.
The good news is that Hockey has decided to take a stand against such behaviour and try and stamp it out immediately. Starting today in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup umpires have the power to give a player a green card – two minutes on the side – if they feel that they are being “crowded” by a team.
All teams and management have been reminded of the new ruling and that if they wish to query a decision, it must be just one player who approaches the umpire, preferably the Captain. If a team continues to “crowd” the umpire they may upgrade the penalty to a yellow card, which could see a player sit out five minutes of the match.
Hockey is to be applauded for taking such a stand, and hopefully the umpires in the tournament will have the courage to use the cards at their disposal, if they deem it necessary. Once again it will come down to the individual umpire using their discretion. The one thing everyone hopes is that they will be consistent in their implementation.
There is no doubt that other sports will be watching how the new penalty on a team unfolds, and whether it improves the behaviour of teams.
Hockey hopes that introduction now will ensure that come the sport’s showpiece event at the Olympic Games teams will have stopped such intimidatory behaviour, as to be a man down in such a big tournament could prove crucial.
Football does not have a mechanism at the moment for a player to temporarily suspended from a match. There has been talk for a number of years that such a tool should be made available so referees can cool down a flashpoint in a match rather than permanently ejecting a player and giving a team a one man advantage. If Hockey’s innovation proves successful in stamping out officials being crowded, the cry for such a mechanism in football may well become louder.