Time For Tougher Penalties at The Top

If ever fans needed proof that the commercialisation of sport is more important than the game itself, they need look no further than the suspension handed out to Real Madrid’s Portuguese superstar Ronaldo.

Ronaldo received two yellow cards in his team’s 3-1 win over arch rivals Barcelona. The first was for taking his shirt off after scoring, the second was for diving in the penalty box. On receiving the red card, for picking up a second yellow card, the player shoved the referee.

The Portuguese player has been given a one game suspension for the initial red card, and a further four game suspension for the subsequent physical altercation. He also has a paltry in comparison to his earnings, €3005 fine on top of the suspension.

With modern day football fans following players rather than teams, players have to accept that now more than ever they really are role models. The pushing of the referee is unacceptable at any level of the game, and in any sport. It used to be if you as much as touched a referee you would be sanctioned.

Sure the push was not a hefty shove, but the weight of the challenge is not the issue, it is the fact that it took place at all. (Ronaldo push)

In 1998 in an English Premier League match between Arsenal and Sheffield Wednesday, Paolo di Canio, then playing for Wednesday was shown a red card after a melee by referee Paul Alcock. in frustration di Canio pushed the referee in the chest and he took a tumble. As di Canio says in his autobiography ““It wasn’t a violent gesture, it was a gesture of disappointment, that’s all it was.” (di Canio pushes Alcock)

Yet it caused a furore, and quite rightly so. Irrespective of the referee’s inelegant tumble, the player should never have pushed him. He should never have touched him.

At the hearing the English authorities handed di Canio a £10,000 fine and an 11 match ban – three for the red card and eight for the push.

The referees were not happy, they felt that it should have been longer, while di Canio felt it should have been no more than six games.

If this had happened in an amateur game the suspension is bound to have been much longer, in some cases a complete season. So why is the professional game any different? Just because a player attracts millions of dollars in sponsorships and memberships does that mean that they are above the laws of the game? Should they not be held more accountable for their actions as they could harm the image of the club, the companies that they promote and the game?

It is worth remembering that just four years ago in the Netherlands a volunteer linesman was beaten to death at a youth game. In the United States a referee of an amateur game in Salt Lake City was punched, and later died as a result of that blow. In Germany an official was hospitalised, and in Spain a referee was assaulted.

That referee was Hector Giner. He was just 17 when he was refereeing a game in Valencia. Reports of the incident claimed that he was attempting to send off a player who had insulted him. As he looked down and began to write in his notebook, the player, a policeman 10 years his senior according to media reports, struck Giner in the face, then delivered two kicks to the body as he lay prone on the floor.

The referee lost his spleen and three litres of blood.

There are many who say that the issue of increased violence towards officials has nothing to do with the elite players and the way they behave; but it cannot help.

In fact a report in Spain into this very issue claimed that the they felt it started at home. That the constant abuse of officials by parents gave off the wrong signal to up and coming players, that it was OK to abuse the referee, and undermined the old-fashioned respect that referees used to command without question.

In Spain it was also revealed that abusing officials was seen as a key part of game. The referee and his assistants are hounded by home fans, with the intention of intimidating them into making favourable decisions to that team. Small children are frequently sat nearby listening and hearing that verbal abuse which it was agreed must undermine the respect of officials at all levels of the game.

Football, in fact sport for that matter is a passionate affair. However at the end of the day it is still just a game. No one should lose their life over a game.

A study at the University of Tubingen in Germany, which interviewed 2,600 regional referees, showed that 40% had been threatened, while 17% said they had been physically attacked. These are appalling statistics.

Many national Associations have accepted that there is a problem and are doing all they can to address the issue. The English Football Association launched a program to try and stop violence against match officials by introducing the “Respect” program at grassroots level. In this program they used online videos to promote “effective dialogue” with players.

Sadly for some the abuse continues long after the final whistle has been blown. Former international referee Norwegian Tom Henning Ovrebo,who was widely accused by media and former Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho of favoring Barcelona in the second leg of a Champions League semifinal in 2009 received death threats long after that controversial European match.

Sadly old fashioned values such as respect and decency are now unfashionable. That is clear, as we witness even the most respected of officials in sport, such as a Rugby Union referee having their decisions questioned in a less than gentlemanly way.

Some say that the verbal and physical violence against referees is a sign of our times, a mirror of our society. An unwillingness by individuals to be accountable for their actions, to respect authority or even the basic rules or laws of a game.

If that is the case then surely those in the public eye, those with the high profiles should be used to send a message to others that this is unacceptable, that the game cannot and will not tolerate such behaviour. Which means that fines in the realm of small change to top flight athletes, and suspensions of the length Ronaldo received are in fact doing the game and sport a disservice. They are also exacerbating the situation at lower levels of the game, and putting other officials at risk.

Time For Tougher Penalties at The Top
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