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IMHO – a South African Football referee's view

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Premier Soccer League (South Africa)

The Complete Elite Referee – SAFA continues to miss the boat

“Nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come” — Victor Hugo

Image

South African football supporters complain bitterly about the non-improving national football referee skills, and they continue to do so at an increased crescendo.  The South African Football Association (SAFA) has done little to nothing to improve the part-time amateur referees’ lot. Specifically, the attention to PSYCHO-SOCIAL variables in attaining & striving for professionally competent and complete elite referees are severely lacking, and continue to lack.

The “Complete Elite Referee” can be defined as an individual who has achieved optimal balance between technical (20-30%) and the psycho-social (70-80%) dynamics.

Technical Variables (20-30%):

(1) Knowledge of the Laws – textbook knowledge;
(2) Interpretation of the Laws – differentiation between the letter & spirit of the Laws;
(3) Application of the Laws – possession of natural affinity for the job;
(4) Physical fitness – athletic ability of meeting/surpassing the physical demands of the job.

Over the years, SAFA spent 95%+ effort in trying to improve the above variables while hardly recognizing or improving the skill-set of the following major factors to attain the ‘Complete Elite Referee.’

Psycho-social variables  (70-80%)

(1) Confidence & self-esteem – able to stand proud under intense public/ media scrutiny and criticism.
(2) Honesty & integrity – impeccable track record of non–allegiance and strong principles of professional independence of thought.
(3) Man-management skills – able to deal with deviant behaviour without relying always on the Laws of the Game but on people skills as well.
(4) Stable social life — individuals able to form and sustain social relations both within a family and society at large.
(5) Stress management – able to shut out personal challenges & maintain focus.
(6) Pressure management – able to withstand and cope with media/player/spectator and other external influences.
(7) Ability to work within a team.
(8) Personality – instilling trust and confidence in colleagues.
(9) Professionalism while on duty – upholding the correct image of the officiating code.
(10) Train-ability – the referee must be amenable to development advice.

As clearly shown, not only are the psycho-social variables more numerous than technical abilities, but they also speak to higher order demands on the psychological and social entity of the aspiring Elite Referee.

Demonstrably as legio examples will show,  a referee who has no or little synergy between the above two sets of variables simply cannot handle the rigors of top level competitive football.

To continued bewilderment, SAFA as custodian of referee development,  concentrates for years now on the first set of variables, to the exclusion of the second set of dynamics.

Zero synergy between these sets of dynamics also results that most South African referees will lack — and continue to lack — top level referee skills in the foreseeable future. What to do? The solution is utterly simple:

(1) Improve and concentrate also on the 2nd set of major variables, skills and attributes of aspiring Elite Referees.

Polishing at most 30% of attributes influencing referee skill is — and continue to be — a recipe for disaster and disaster management.

(2) Ask the referees what they want and implement their solutions to their voiced problems! 

Stands to reason you would think, not? Alas!

If the above ‘referee  policy’ extract seems familiar to some, let it be known that it was, as integral part of a referee policy concept document presented to SAFA. As far back as 2007, from concerned National Referees Panel members and their then representatives, to SAFA’s National Referee Committee (NRC). With no result.

fifa-referee-training

An objective analysis of how various administrators in this country handled refereeing affairs reveals a stark contrast between their school of thought and the exposition of the Complete Referee above.

Furthermore, the pressure that comes from societal expectations of a referee who “appears on TV” may inhibit adequate performance for a referee who, given South Africa’s specific socio-economic background, happens to be struggling financially. Or whom stays in an informal settlement dwelling that belies his status as a local “celebrity.”

This is an aspect directly linked to the psychological variable of self-esteem. Simply put, a happy and content referee will give the best performance. A referee will be content when he is made part of the process that dictates his career path; when he is a meaningful participant in all related referee fraternity activities.

It is common knowledge — and the author’s unequivocal experience in a decade plus at the top level of South African refereeing  — that all previous and current  administrators of the various SAFA referee structures have tended to regard referees as ‘bird-chicks’ whose mouths are forever open for anything the ‘big bird’ shoves down open mouths, whether palatable or not. A top-down rather then a bottom-up managerial style.

Yet, amongst the top level South African referees over the years, there were always highly qualified intellectuals, some of whom have been more qualified in management and leadership then their leaders. The referee fraternity has been graced by the membership of lawyers, accountants, pilots, school principles, teachers and other highly competent individuals holding management positions at their work places.

The collective wisdom and leadership acumen of these people were seldom, if ever, tapped into by the various SAFA referee structures, let alone receiving recognition.

There has never been a SAFA-accepted administrative and management policy framework, despite such a policy framework presentation to SAFA , a framework that (in the past) was created BY the referees FOR the referees, upon which administrative and managerial future actions could be premised. Hence the clamour for a professional referee charter within the fold of the Association, a groundswell that many countries have taken up where acumen of political will and managerial skill is in no short supply.

“I started an amateur and retired an amateur” — Former South African FIFA Referee, Ace Ncobo

Needless to say, any organisation governed according to subjectively created precedents — in the absence of clear referee management policies, precedent dictates actions — will not have a healthy corporate governance record.

Thus, the referee governance culture of SAFA is, essentially, counter-productive in the quest to achieve optimum professional levels of performance the referees are certainly capable of.

There are no short-cuts in top level referee development. SAFA either lacks managerial skill and political will to remedy the situation, or worse, could not be bothered.

South Africa has the best developed pro football league in Africa. Sadly, the inconvenient truth (and paradox) is complete referee development is still non-existent.

It is self-evident that SAFA’s  current elite referee development policy of getting the Premier Soccer League’s (PSL) national referees together twice-yearly, for a “polish-up” seminar on such technical dynamics — dynamics that are only 20-30% part of an Elite Referee’s make-up — will not magically instill any higher level of professional standards in officiating. Professional standards the game of football in South Africa deserves.

"Coaches were back in office to prepare for the new season two months ago. The officials went for assessments and fitness tests with only two weeks left before the season kicked off. Now what kind of outcome should we expect?" Ex-Fifa Referee Ace Ncobo
“Coaches were back in office to prepare for the new [PSL] season two months ago. The [match] officials went for assessments and fitness tests with only two weeks left before the season kicked off. Now what kind of outcome should we expect?” Ex-Fifa Referee Ace Ncobo, Aug. 2013.
The result of SAFA’s short-sightedness in not having a holistic approach to complete development of the aspiring elite referee is utterly predictable: most South African referees will continue to lack much needed top-level officiating skills. Indefinitely.

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USA and Canadian Soccer establishing “PRO” Ref structure

Professional Referee Organization created to manage officials in North America

 

Congratulations to the USA and Canadian soccer federations for creating and forming the Professional Referee Organization (PRO)  on 6 March 2012. Their goal is simple: to set worldwide standards in football officiating. Heading up the PRO structure is English Premier League referee Peter Walton, a veteran of nearly 200 English Premiership matches since 2003.

The 52-year-old will assume the new fulltime post of General Manager of the organization. His appointment starts on April 2 and he will be based in New York City throughout the Major League Soccer (MLS) season.

Peter Walton heading GM PRO
English referee, Peter Walton, the GM of newly created Professional Referee Organization (PRO) from April 2012 in the USA & Canada

The PRO will incorporate several of the new initiatives introduced last year – a referee command center in New York, the use of video analysis, real-time evaluations of match officials and in-stadium professional match evaluators.

The PRO model allows for more financial funding toward the referee program, hiring of more experienced technical staff to educate  referees, increased training opportunities for officials, additional identification and training opportunities for up-and-coming officials and increased investment toward sports science.

“We’ve always understood that the development of referees is an important aspect to the growth of the game in the United States,” said U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati. “PRO is another step toward the improvement and professionalization of our top referees. With the additional resources and funding provided by the formation of PRO, we will continue to build upon the progress we’ve already made.”

Said MLS Commissioner Don Garber:  “Thanks to collaborative work with U.S. Soccer and the Canadian Soccer Association, officiating in MLS made significant strides forward in the past year. The overall level of MLS refereeing is good, and the creation of the Professional Referee Organization is the logical next stage of development. MLS and U.S. Soccer proudly welcome PRO General Manager Peter Walton, who will utilize his exceptional experience as a referee and as an administrator, along with substantial resources, to help MLS achieve its vision of setting the worldwide standard in officiating.”

U.S. Soccer and Major League Soccer (MLS) took significant steps in 2011 to create a U.S. Soccer professional referee department and relocate to New York. Seven new rookie referees were introduced to MLS last year, participating in almost 20 percent of the league’s regular season games. The use of quantitative analysis and video were used to evaluate USA referees  in real time at the newly constructed referee command center in New York, helping upcoming and existing referees substantially.

Approximately 45,000 new referees enter the officiating ranks every year in the United States, and U.S. Soccer Federation will continue its efforts to put more online educational resources at their disposal. A PRO Advisory Board also will be established as Peter Walton, and other members, will meet regularly to monitor the progress being achieved by referees.

Having the political will, forethought, managerial skill and acumen, a sense of pride in officiating excellence and actively supporting match officials 100% in becoming professional full-time, as well as the business acumen to formalize the pro referee structure in such a relative short period of time is an example for all countries, not least my country, headed by the South African Football Association (SAFA).

As one learned soccer scribe was quoted succinctly in an European football magazine on the still-born South African pro referee structures, dormant for the past few years:

It is essential for the credibility of the game to keep up officiating standards, but attempts to bring in professional refereeing remains stymied by a power struggle between the South African Football Association and the PSL.  SAFA control refereeing and want to keep it so. But they have no money. The PSL [ Premier Soccer League] have the money to pay salaries and set up structures but obviously want the control if they are to spend the cash.  Talk of a professional [referee structure] has been going on for years now with little progress.  It is time SAFA and the PSL set aside their political cat fighting and work together on this urgent matter.

Let’s hope SAFA and the Premier Soccer League (PSL), the entity that manages the top two leagues in South Africa, can get their act together to follow the USA example. Soon, before this decade is out.

Long Break

Mind, body & soul should be in harmony. Alas.

Belated congratulations to Spain for winning Fifa World Cup 2010, South Africa!

Spain, World Cup 2010 Final: 1.Iker Casillas, 15.Sergio Ramos, 16.Sergio Busquets, 3.Gerard Piqué, 11.Joan Capdevila, 14.Xabi Alonso, 21.David Silva, 8.Xavi, 7.David Villa, 6.Andrés Iniesta, 5.Carles Puyol

Since the World Cup ended on 11 July 2010 as well as my personal involvement therein, I had a long break from football … and the keyboard. Much needed.  The 2009-2010 referee season was cut by almost 9 weeks to give some recuperation time for the 2010 World Cup players, certainly the shortest and busiest season experienced since I came onto the referee panel in 2003.

Time is now of the essence to get back onto the Premier Soccer League (PSL) referee panel for the 2010-2011 season, which kicked off in great style recently at the Cape Town Stadium with a double header. Newly promoted Cape Town team Vasco da Gama debut against Orlando Pirates, scored first but lost 1-2, while Ajax Cape Town got the better of Bloemfontein Celtic with almost 45,000 people in attendance at this magnificent stadium. The fan walk that worked so well during the World Cup did its magic again, with young and old showing the World Cup atmosphere certainly will not be a once-off for the mother city.

Alas, apart from suffering serious food poisoning during the World Cup, I tore a calf muscle 3 1/2 weeks ago doing some stamina (hill) reps in preparing for the obligatory Fifa fitness test at the start of a new referee season. My first serious injury in 17 years. My physiotherapist is doing wonders with the calf with numerous 5cm needles being pushed into “pressure points” to speed up the recovery.  A combination of eastern medicine pressure, western medicine ultra-sound & laser treatment, painful deep tissue massage (you really do sweat on a table without ever moving a muscle!) as well as regular gym work/swimming to keep fitness & stamina levels up for the oncoming Fifa fitness test,  are all doing  its magic on my calf muscle. This (balanced) treatment recovery program has even my physio astounded at the recovery speed. Healthy eating via wife’s Portuguese/Mediterranean cooking… well, her food should not be underrated in this sorry escapade.

I promised earlier to do Part II, Referee Body Language. Specifically, actual exercises to hone the referee’s body language style and repertoire to communicate with players on field. It will be forthcoming…very soon. Watch this space.

Did I rob the visiting football side of a goal? Hell yes!

Did the ball cross the line? Who knows for certain?

Bloemfontein Celtic, playing away to title chasers Mamelodi Sundowns in the local Premier Soccer League, was robbed this week of a legitimate goal.  Who were these wretched match officials?

I was the middle referee. Moi, me.  I robbed the visiting side. There, I said it!  Therefore, I plead guilty to the charges of:

(1) I was not able to cover/run 30+ yards towards the goal line in just 1,46 seconds, being the total flight time of the ball from kick to bounce on the ground;

(2) Being complicit in not cajoling my assistant referee (AR2) to cover/run 18 yards in the above flight time to reach the corner flag/goal line;

(3)  Not being able to have the gall to guess – from where I stood – if the ball that bounced off the cross bar did in fact cross the goal line completely, i.e. the whole width of the ball and not just the centre of it. Parallax anyone? (I’ll come back to this funny word soon)

(4) Not having any video aid or even an assistant colleague standing on/near goal line at all times to clarify the call for a legitimate goal.

Humans have limits. Technology seems limitless, judging by Moore’s Law. How I wish I had some aid/technology/help to decide if the rocket shot at goal from the skilful and powerful Bloemfontein Celtic player, Kanono, had indeed crossed the line when the ball hit the cross bar, bounced (apparently) just behind the goal line, only to end up in the field of play. All this happened in 1,46 seconds from a 24-yard shot at goal. Yes, I timed the ball’s flight. Call me pedantic.

No hope in hell – from my position anyway – that will even allow me to guess where the ball bounced. Making a guessing call from that distance and that angle is a sure way to end with zero credibility as a referee. I need to know with 100% certainty it crossed the goal line. No match official should guess any decision from our natural (and hopefully correct!) positions on the field of play. Parallax again!

The golden rule of officiating is still applicable; if you or your assistant are not sure, then you cannot call any infringement …. or award a goal in this instance. Full stop.  As one match commissioner/referee assessor remarked about this incident in particular: 

“Do nothing, and if you did call that goal, I would’ve had a serious problem with you.”

He is referring to parallax, an optical illusion phenomena. It’s grade 6 school work. Well, it was in the 1970’s anyway. Parallax is an apparent displacement (or difference) in the apparent position of an object (the soccer ball), viewed along two different lines of sight (the referee’s current, oblique angle as compared to the correct viewing angle – the ONLY angle! – along or on the goal line), and is measured by the angle or semi-angle of inclination between those two lines.

A simple everyday example of parallax can be seen in the dashboard of motor vehicles that use a “needle” type speedometer gauge. When viewed from directly in front (along or on the goal line), the speed needle may show 60 km/h, i.e. the needle appears against the ’60’ mark on the dial behind; but when viewed from the passenger seat (i.e. from an oblique angle, i.e. the referee’s view in the middle of the field of play) the needle can appear against a slightly lower or higher mark, depending on whether it is viewed from the left or from the right, because of the combined effect of the spacing and the angle of view. End lesson 1a.

Being aware of the optical illusion of parallax, and if he wanted to negate the effect thereof completely, my assistant referee (AR2) had some yardage gain on me to possibly set the record straight; he had to run only 18 yards to the corner flag in  1 second flat to see along the goal line and to give a 100% correct call if the ball crossed the line entirely or not,  thus making Mr. Parallax look silly. Alas, he’s no Usian Bolt either. Yes, despite the illusion of parallax, it would have been relatively easy to make the decision if the ball bounced meters behind the goal line. But this was clearly not the case.

It is not the first time that such an incident occurred in my match. It leaves a frank taste that I cannot avail myself to some form of aid/technology with so much riding professionally on this particular match.  And all other professional football matches for that matter. Let’s also be clear here: I do not support any football team in South Africa. In fact, I don’t support any football team anywhere. Never been a staunch supporter of any team, whether it’s football, rugby, baseball, basketball, underwater hockey …  you catch the drift?  Boring, I know.  But you have it now in writing and you can hold me to it –  so much for the South African football conspiracy theorists.

One of Mr. Blatter’s explanations for denying video technology inter alia to aid match officials are that such aids will rob the public of “talking points” on the match. I suppose being the referee and being subject to such a “talking point” encounter –  and more often being called various unsavoury things in between – are indeed points to talk about.

I know that in the EUROPA league EUFA is currently experimenting with 2 additional referees next to the goal nets. Their presence on the goal line next would certainly have helped to make the correct call. I just don’t envy these officials, having to stand for 90 minutes at roughly the same spot, so close to the always vocal – and hostile – supporters of the various teams.

The time has passed were we, and Fifa, can emphatically (and automatically) say no to any form of technology aids to assist in the accuracy of referee calls for the professional game. Who would have foreseen the referee communication system and bleeper flags 20-30 years ago? I sincerely believe that technological aids will be gradually introduced by Fifa, not after some thorough testing and criteria worked out before their introduction at international tournaments.

Be it as it may, I apologize sincerely that I, given the limits of human nature, but given the possibility of limitless technology advancement, was not able to award an apparent legitimate goal to Bloemfontein Celtic on the night. It is a talking point. Now discuss. One request though: stop calling me unsavioury names ;-). I will let this matter now rest with the following quote:

We call it as we see it. Although television can give you 15 different angles, the only angle they can’t show is the referee’s — Paul Durkin, ex-FA Premier League referee, 1998

The still sequences below were taken during my match this week, Mamelodi Sundowns vs. Bloemfontein Celtic.

Kanono (white circle) about to unleash a powerful shot. The middle ref is the slacker that cannot guess.
Sundowns GK Baloyi well beaten, with the ball hitting the bar and about to travel downwards.
The ball seems to have crossed the goal line. The Assistant and I had an oblique angle given our respective positions, and given parallax, we were not 100% certain.

Colour of tape used around football stockings

I really like your colour sir!
I really like your colour sir!

Dr. Errol Sweeney, a former professional referee that officiated in South Africa, touches on a subject (see Football365.co.za – Opinion) that I encountered recently in a National First Division (NFD) match.

Law 4 Player’s Equipment notes the following regarding the issue of colour: “The two teams must wear colours that distinguish them from each other and also the referee and the assistant referees.”

Dr. Sweeney opinions that Wits coach has no reason, according to the Laws of the Game, to complain. While I agree in principle, I also humbly disagree, as it all depends on the amount of tape used. The coach of First Division side Ikapa Sporting, Sergio dos Santos, was rather amused when I informed some of his players to either change the colour or reduce the amount of tape used around their stockings/socks if they want to take the field of play.  Though dos Santos made no issue about this, he asked my reasoning for this sudden “rule change”.

Well, it’s quite simple really. It’s no rule change, but common sense, aka Law 18: His opponents had white stockings. Ikapa Sporting players had black stockings. These players taped up a third (and some half) of the socks with white duct tape to uphold their shin guards. One player even had white socks over his dark stockings. Thus, up to half the stockings of some players were the same colour as their opponents. So we have a situation were some players had colours that obviously did not distinguish them from their opponents socks, but are the same, and to a large degree at that. How does this impact play?

The coach or his players might not be confused, but I have difficulty in establishing a last touch of the ball if I look down at players legs.

——-

EDIT (2 Nov09): FIFA has with interest noted the usage of tape over the hose/stockings/socks of players slipping into the game of football. FIFA, being forward thinkers, and having seen this issue creeping in to the Fifa U20 World Cup in Egypt recently, issued the following directive:

Tape (or any such) may only be used if it is the same colour as the main colour of the hose/socks.

FIFA contends that tape changes the colour of the socks/hose, thus it is in contravention of the provision of the Laws of the Game. The ruling of FIFA is based on the same principle as that which governs the colour of undergarments. There is no official notice from FIFA via circular letter yet – as this takes time – but we can be proactive in South Africa and take action while awaiting FIFA’s official directive to the confederations.

The only endeavor left now is to get consistency in application of the ruling via all referees here in South Africa.

Injured footballers and offside

Still putting them onside.
Still putting them onside.

I returned recently to the friendly city of Pietermaritzburg for a bottom of the log clash, Maritzburg United v Jomo Cosmos. I officiated Maritzburg United a few weeks ago when they led 1-0, only to succumb to Hristo Stoitckov’s Mamelodi Sundowns 1-5. Stoitckov’s team is starting to get into their (slow) stride, an outfit capable of challenging for top honours. But it’s a long way to go as there is many a congested fixture to be fulfilled to the end of the PSL season in Feb10, a couple of months earlier then normal. This will ensure some respite for players before the ultimate showpiece here on our shores, World Cup 2010.

Both Maritzburg United and Jomo Cosmos are desperate to grab some much needed log points. Jomo Cosmos is rooted bottom in the Premier League. From a referee’s viewpoint these do-or-die clashes require a level of concentration that approaches those of a Zen master. As we arrived at the venue a 1½ hours before kick-off, there was a collective murmur when we got out of our car. Local security personnel, team supporters, local team players and management seems to have the view if they see a referee again, so soon after their previous (heavy) defeat, that the same match official just brings serious bad luck.

“Give us a break referee” was the usual retort among those congregated. I still amazes me how the focus of a teams’ game plan go from preparation to the highest degree to “Ohh no, not HIM again!” A lot of faith some supporters and management have in their players’ abilities!

Being at the wrong end of the league point’s spreadsheet has consequences. Matches of this sort can (and do) explode into mayhem on the smallest of incidents. I tell my assistants a match is a disaster in the making, just waiting to happen if officials fail to notice the slightest change in mood/temperature. In officiating parlance it is referred to as the “feel” for the match. Experienced referees will tell you that they develop a six sense when conditions on the field reach boiling point. Corrective measures should then be taken by the officials. A stronger pre-emptive word at players, sparingly applying advantage etc.  can help to cool down players inflamed attitudes. Referees then enter the realm of psychologist and manager. Conducting this tightrope between referee, being Freud and managing 22 players on the field is no easy task.

No referee worth his salt & profession should blindly accept his match assignment without doing some home work on the teams and their log standings. Predictive playing styles will go out of the window in searching for those elusive log points. Players are under immense scrutiny to raise their level of play. Jomo Sono, the head coach of Jomo Cosmos, had less to worry regarding job security. He owns and bankrolls his own team. An enviable position in football.

 The same can not be said for Gordon Igesund, the most successful coach in the Premier Soccer League and currently taskmaster of Maritzburg. He’s employers must be squeezing him for every ounce of coaching acumen, trying to reverse Maritzburg’s 1-5 drubbing at he hands of Mamelodi Sundowns and a 0-2 loss to Moroka Swallows.

My concentration levels during the match were, as they say, “in the zone.” I have the ability to get tunnel vision during matches – not every time – but when it occurs, it feels as if everything is flowing in the right direction, despite hiccups and incidents that might lessen your control on the match.  Ask me after the match what surroundings I noticed in/around the stadium and I’m likely to not give you a satisfactory answer. Or one at all.

Back to the night game. An interesting scenario occurred. A Cosmos player went down injured outside the 6-yard goal area, but play was swinging within the bigger penalty area as the home side Maritzburg United, 0-1 down, pressed their attacking advantage. To my judgement, and erring on the side of safety, I was of the opinion that the player was not seriously injured. No blood was spurting from an open wound, nor was there any head injury that required immediate medical intervention, nor could I see bones sticking out of his stockings due to an atrocious tackle. In fact, no infringement of the rules occurred when the Jomo Cosmos player went down as if shot between the eyes.

Glancing over my right shoulder during the attack I saw my 2nd assistant immediately correcting his offside line to that of the injured player. The latter is now a static second last defender (with the Goalkeeper in the goal mouth.) Good! As per Law 5, I allowed play to continue and the strong promising attack ended with the ball in the back of the net with their injured player still sprawled on his back. No guesses what happened next. Complaints. Why did their opponents not kick the ball out when the player was injured? Why should they? Why did you not stop play ref?

Effective 1 July 2009 – as customary every year – FIFA send their circular letters to different football confederations re-iterating and/or explaining the changes to the Laws of the Game. FIFA reminder to referees this year:  

“Referees are reminded that Law 5 states that the referee must stop the match if, in his opinion, a player is seriously injured.”

This statement is intended to reinforce a guideline issued earlier by the International Board (tasked with rule changes) of the practice of a team kicking the ball off the field to stop play when there is an apparent injury on the field, as it detracts from the responsibility of the referee under Law 5 to assess the injury and to stop play only if, in the opinion of the referee, the injury is serious.  Referees are therefore advised to be seen to quickly and publicly consider the status of any player seemingly injured and clearly decide whether or not the situation merits a stoppage of play.  Too wit, I waved play on with my left arm when Cosmos players were shouting that I should stop the match. And I shouted clearly: “PLAY ON!”  

Thus, the referee must control this decision as much as possible. It’s not up to the players to insist.

Would I have stopped play if the injury occured in the middle of the park with a slim chance for a promising attack? Yes. Would I have stopped play if I saw a serious injury, no matter where on the field of play? Certainly. Player safety is paramount, above any other consideration. FIFA’s Fair Play motto is underpinned by the well-known acronym S(afety) E(quality) E(njoyment). Safety comes first. Jomo Sono, the Cosmos coach, approached me as we walked off the pitch and graciously stated that he was OK with the decision to let play continue, despite his team being one defender down.

I reckon it’s pretty damn OK  if coaches know the Laws that govern their profession.

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