To play any sport in extreme temperatures today is nothing short of foolish, yet sadly once again we witnessed the safety of the players and officials put at risk with the scheduling in the A-League.
Last night’s A-League fixture in Perth against Adelaide United was scheduled for a 5:00pm kick off local time; 8:00pm Sydney and Melbourne time. Because of scorching heat the game was sensibly pushed back to 5:30pm.
Perth is always hot at this time of year but yesterday witness the city experience its third hottest January day on record. The barometer hit 44.4 degrees just before 2:00pm, and was still a high 36.3 degrees when the game kicked off at 5:30pm.
A year ago then Perth Glory coach Alistair Edwards complained of kick off times in Perth and how there had to be flexibility when temperatures were high when marquee signing William Gallas made his debut. On that occasion the temperature had peaked at 37 but was 32 when the game started. In 2012 a game against the Central Coast Mariners went ahead with the mercury hovering around 36 degrees in Perth. Again the coaches complained, but no action was taken.
This is nothing new in the old NSL in 2003 Stewart Petrie made his debut for Northern Spirit in sweltering heat in Perth having arrived straight off a plane from Scotland. He suffered a great deal from the heat and dehydration as a result.
Last night Perth Glory’s Chris Harold had to leave the field in the 24th minute due to the effects of the heat according to team mates post match. How long can this continue? Is it going to take a tragedy before anything is done?
To be fair both Perth Glory and the Professional Footballers Association (PFA) had called for yesterday’s game to be delayed further than 5.30pm. Their please fell on deaf ears with the Football Federation of Australia (FFA) as apparently they do not like games to air in the East later than 8pm on Fox.
So who would be held accountable should the unthinkable have happened? Would it be the clubs for sending their players out to play? One legal expect says that if the clubs had proof of them airing their concerns to the FFA prior to the game then ‘they would most likely be absolved of responsibility.’ However our legal expert advised that knowing the temperatures in Perth, it could be argued that the club should never have signed off on the fixtures and a kick off time of 5:00pm to start with, unless they put a rider clause to state that kick off could be moved if temperatures were high.
Assuming the club did both of these things the onus goes back on the FFA. The television station, who works closely with the games administrators ‘is unlikely to be held accountable,’ as once again it is the administrators who sign off on the final fixtures for the season.
So what about the role of the referee? It is the referee’s role to ensure the safety of players, other officials and spectators. This means that he is entitled to make decisions on safety concerns about the match atmosphere or play. The options at hand are suspending the play, addressing the problem or abandoning the match. Those events interfering with the match are then recorded by the referee.
So could the referee be held accountable? Apparently there is a possibility that he could be. The key issue again would be whether players or coaches had raised concerns to the referee prior to the game kicking off and he had chosen to ignore those concerns. It would then mean that the player concerned would have to prove that this was the case. According to legal advice ‘this would be hard to prove, but is a possibility.’
However this issue could take on a whole different level if it was discovered that referees were under pressure from either the FFA, or the television broadcaster to start the game as scheduled. ‘This would be a different matter entirely,’ was the feedback we received and if this were the scenario the broadcaster could become in embroiled in a legal issue.
These very issues raised their head in December 2010 when the Central Coast Mariners took on Gold Coast United at Skilled park. The pitch was waterlogged before kick off and in some areas there were pools of water. Questions were raised as to whether the game should go ahead. The word at the time was that pressure was put on referee Chris Beath to start the match. He did, but after 20 minutes had to abandon it when standing water was preventing the ball from rolling.
This is a very serious issue. In the interests of the game and those who play it – and not forgetting the spectators too- all of the A-League clubs need to discuss this before next season and be agreed upon a course of action. It could be any of the remaining nine teams who find themselves playing in Perth in plus 36 degree heat, and it could be anyone of their players who is affected by the heat. That is why all should be united on this issue. It is not just one that impacts on Perth Glory.