Saturday, June 27, 2015

Referees are convenient scapegoats

This article appeared in the August, 2014 issue of Four-Four-Two Malaysia.


I was in my late teens, years away from earning my journalistic stripes, when I noticed two familiar figures in a black and white group photo, taken probably in the 60s.

Much to my pleasant surprise, my late father was the referee in a match held somewhere remote, as I later discovered.

The other instantly recognisable face was that of Peter Velappan, who went on to become arguably Asia’s most influential football leader for more than three decades.

It is a shame that the photo has perished. Because of that picture, I found out my dad earned his Level 3 refereeing badge in Johor and that match was held in an estate.

He was a contemporary of Johor referee, the late Othman Kamaluddin, known as OK in the football circle those days.

While my dad did not pursue a career in refereeing, Othman on many occasions took centrestage in the Malaysia Cup and Merdeka Tournament in the 80s.

Othman came from a generation of renowned referees, foremost among them Batu Pahat-born teacher, Datuk George Joseph, who shared the pitch with Diego Maradona in the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Tokyo in 1979.

George, Tan Sri Zain Hashim, T. Nadarajah, S. Kathiravale, Mohd Noor Saud, Patrick Nice, Koh Guan Kiat, Steven Ovinis, Mohd Nazri Abdullah and Nik Ahmad Yaakub to name a few, were the pride of the nation, without getting the opportunity to officiate at the most prestigious sporting extravaganza - the World Cup.

Penang’s Subkhiddin Mohd Salleh did. He earned the distinction at the age of 43 and four months, one year shy of the FIFA age limit, at the South Africa edition in 2010. Halim Hamid and Mat Lazim Awang Hamad were appointed as linesmen in France’98 and Korea/Japan 2002 respectively.

A member of the FIFA referees’ committee, Subkhiddin, was again in Brazil 2014, as the referee technical instructor tasked to analyse referees’ performance for immediate appraisal the following day.

These days, Malaysian referees, however, remain a subject of hate, ridicule and convenient scapegoats of match-fixing allegations.

With the advent of technology and the freedom of expression enjoyed by keyboard warriors, referees have been put under greater scrutiny than ever before.

It does not help matters when M-League matches are laden with questionable decisions from referees.

As a result a huge chunk of criticism directed at the FA of Malaysia (FAM) centred around the perceived incompetence of match officials.

Behind the scenes though, the referees department of FAM have been working quietly to help raise the standard of refereeing.

While goal-line technology that determined Karim Benzema’s effort against Honduras in Brasil 2014 was a legitimate goal may be too expensive to be implemented in this region, FAM have begun to experiment with strategically located additional assistant referees.

FAM has endeavoured to launch the Gemilang Project, with the aim of producing a referee qualified enough to be picked on merit for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

They are also toying with the idea of Introducing radio communication system and electronic flags.

As of 2013, four referees - Nagor Amir Noor Mohamed, Amirul Izwan Yaccob, Nafeez Wahab and Suhaizi Shukri – are the select few who have earned the FIFA badge, while six former referees or assistant referees are FIFA/AFC instructors. This means Subkhiddin, C Ravichandran, Rodzali Yacob, Ahmad Khalidi Supian, Azimi Abdullah and S. Selerajan are master referees who teach others how to become better match officials.

FAM’s grouse remains the lack of referees coming through the system. The original source of referees remains the States but very little opportunity is given to them to hone their skills as the number of inter-district, inter-club tournaments or State leagues for them to cut their teeth has dwindled.

The idea of professional referees is not entirely new. But do we have the financial muscle to pull it through?

Japanese professional referees earn as much as US$10,000 a month, while English referees’ annual salary can come up to RM300,000.

FAM have agreed in principle to appoint 10 referees as professionals but they do not guarantee an error-free match.

To err is human, by the way.

But FAM can start to effect changes by having a separate body to manage and appoint referees for Super League and Malaysia Cup matches. This will help to protect FAM’s integrity and the sanctity of every match.

Then again, as Brazil 2014 suggested, referees are prone to making questionable decisions even at the highest level where the stakes are much higher.

Alas Malaysians in general must realise, since Harimau Malaya appear to be stuck in a perpetual darkness, referees are our only saving grace and best hope to represent the country at the grandest football extravaganza of all – the World Cup.


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