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IMHO – a South African Football referee's view

FIFA considers neck-warming snood ban

IFAB TO  RULE  ON  SNOODS  AND  “ANY  OTHER  BUSINESS”

The International Football Board (IFAB), the sole body tasked with football law changes, is about to discuss the next round of possible changes to be effected, or not.

The games’ law-making body will meet on March 5 with Fifa and a specific topic, marked “V.1.b” on the “Any Other Business” section of the annual meeting agenda, will be of interest to referees and some football players wearing certain garments, called snoods or neck warmers.

Arsenal player Samir Nasri wearing a snood, soon to be out-lawed by Fifa?

Fifa raised health and safety concerns, citing the issue as follows: 

“We want a debate whether it could be dangerous. There may be a safety issue – if for example a player was running though on goal and an opponent grabbed his snood, that could pose a potential danger to his neck,” a FIFA spokesman was quoted.

Players Samir Nasri (Arsenal), Argentinian Carlos Tevez (Manchester City) and Emmanuel Adebayor (loaned to Real Madrid) are among the adherents in the professional game wearing the snood winter accessory. Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, has banned his players from wearing them. Arsenal coach, Arsene Wenger, is of the opinion that snoods actually protect against injury, in reference to thermal characteristics of these garments on a player’s neck.

Law 4 – The Players’ Equipment, states:

“A player must not use equipment or wear anything that is dangerous to himself or another player (including any kind of jewellery).

It is debatable how dangerous the wearing of snoods really are, given snoods are made of soft clothing and are nothing more then a warm scarf wrap-around, usually used in those countries where players play in close to zero temperatures. This argument is apart from the issue whether players should be fashionistas, or not, in today’s modern game. The use of certain player apparel – gloves – are defined and interpreted by referees, while not mentioned anywhere in Law 4, as posing no risk of injury to player and opponent. Most referees allow snoods to be worn, being of the opinion, based on their interpretation of Law 4, that these items pose no risk to players. Or do they?

They’ve all gone soft – Roy Keane, former Manchester United Captain, on players wearing neck warmers

A scarf or snood has a higher chance of getting snagged onto a cleat, a boot, a hand, a finger, an arm.  There is a risk of neck injury, a very susceptible, exposed and weak body part due to the proximity of vertebra.

Though the chance is admittedly small that this might occur, the danger to players’ safety can be considerable. Parallels can be drawn to the Roman Law of Delict, where one of the defining principles of negligence can be summed as follows: If the chance of an incident occurring is quite remote or unlikely, but if does occur and then result in major/serious damage to property or person, then steps must be actively taken to negate or diminish such possibility of remote damage. In the absence of such active steps to prevent injury, a party or person can be held liable for negligence.

Although Law 5 (Decision 1 of the International F.A. Board) define the role of match officials, inasmuch that they cannot be held liable for any kind of injury a player might suffer due to a match official’s decision to “….allow or not to allow a player to wear certain apparel or equipment”, Fifa is of the opinion that player safety is of tantamount importance and should outweigh any thermal benefits – or fashion trends – of snood-wearing players.

Fifa wants to give guidance and clarity to referees in allowing these specific garments. By wishing to define Law 4 with possibly concrete examples of clothing items that should or should not be allowed on the field of play, Fifa endeavors for consistency in the exercise of a referee’s discretion. The issue of defining the Laws for clarity and consistency, whether such considerations to do so are based on player safety or uniformity, is akin to IFAB’s ruling a few years ago that “jerseys or shirts”  must have sleeves.

The snood has been an popular piece of kit for the professional footballer and shot to fame after Manchester City star Carlos Tevez began wearing one.

I venture to say Fifa, couching their rationale into player safety and health terms, will have a greater chance in having IFAB agreeing with their opinion in possibly having these items out-lawed. Players, for the most part, did and still do without them, and the benefit of neck protection certainly is negligible, despite their thermal attributes. Contrast this with thermal undershorts, where the player’s leg muscles are constantly stretching and flexing due to running and kicking motions, where the player is at far greater risk of pulling a leg muscle than having a neck muscle going into spasms due to lack of thermal clothing.

There is no empirical incidents detailing injuries by opponent’s studs or body parts snagging onto thermal legging under garments, as a safety hazard, and causing thus serious injury. Can the same (soon) be said for snoods if their use become more prevalent, especially since they are close to a very vulnerable part of a player’s body, his neck? I doubt it.

In my humble opinion, neck warmers are potentially far more dangerous then their benefit as thermal wear, and certainly unimportant, irrelevant, immaterial, inconsequential and trivial if snoods are to be worn for fashion reasons on the football playing field. Ultimately, referees should adhere to the following FIFA guideline pertaining to extra equipment used: thoroughly inspect said equipment  before kick-off and ascertain whether the extra equipment worn are to

(1) physically protect the player (e.g. from adverse weather elements,  or from further injury during the match where the injury was sustained earlier etc.)

(2) and  are, in the opinion of the referee, not dangerous to the player or anyone else.

If the above conditions are not fulfilled, then the referee must instruct the player/management of the team to do away with the “snood goods.” For good.

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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.

Well done Ravshan Irmatov!

World Cup match 1: South Africa vs. Mexico, Johannesburg, 11 June 2010.

I am of the opinion the Referee for the opening match between South Africa & Mexico, Ravshan Irmatov of Uzbekistan, did exceedingly well, including his 1st assistant whom correctly ruled Mexico’s goal offside. Ravshan control of the match was calm, focused, with excellent body language; he was also quick off the mark to get into good viewing angles. He did not seem  flustered or nervous given the occasion. Rated currently #15 in the world, he has a bright future and if he’s consistent, will soon break into the World Top 10 Referee List.  Well done Ravshan and your officiating team!

Mexico's Efrain Juarez, left, became the first player to be booked in the World Cup by referee Ravshan Irmatov (Uzbekistan) during the World Cup group A soccer match between South Africa and Mexico at Soccer City in Johannesburg, South Africa, Friday, June 11, 2010

World Cup match 2: Uruguay vs. France, Cape Town, 11 June 2010:

A very good performance from Japanese referee Nashimura given some of the flying tackles during this fast, chaotic match. Well controlled, using his discretion and common sense, where allowed, to rather talk to players  as opposed to be completely yellow-card happy.

Nashimura quickly took charge of the delaying tactics of the captain of Uruguay at a free kick (awarded to France) near the penalty area late in the match, cautioning the player  for failing to adhere to the referee’s instruction to move the required 10-yards away.

Referee Nashimura was also spot-on with the first red card of World Cup 2010  in the 81st minute,  a second yellow/caution for the hot-headed Uruguayan substitute Lodeiro due to the latter’s late, reckless lunge on his opponent. Lodeiro managed only 18 min. on the pitch.

Lodeiro, brought on as substitute in the 63rd minute, received his first caution in the 65th minute  for delaying the restart of play; kicking the ball away after the whistle was blown for an infringement.

Most importantly, Nashimura looked as if he enjoyed the match, being stern when needed, but also showing a relaxed body language (and a smile!)  in lesser confronting situations between the two teams. He was not too officious, correctly maintaining a balance between being firm, fair as well as approachable by grumbling players, without entertaining too much lip from them.

Despite the French coach Domonech’s complaint after the match about a possible handball to be awarded for France in the penalty area late in the match, the Laws of the game were correctly applied: If the ball did indeed struck the hand of the Uruguay defender after a shot from a French forward, there was certainly no deliberate movement of his hand towards the ball, given the speed of the ball and the distance between the two players involved.

Another very good performance from the FIFA Team officials!

Referee Body Language – Part 1

Body Language of Elite Football Referees — Part 1

The best referee is the one who is seen and heard when the game or situation requires him to be seen or heard. Referees should attempt to manage the game in the background. When the players are not cooperating, the referee must then make his presence known and his message must be seen and/or heard. — USA Referee Training Program (2009)

You need to be a good communicator, not just of decisions made but equally important have the ability to get your message across to players, managers and spectators. Referees are required to remain calm, controlled and develop high concentration levels to be successful.Ian Blanchard, ex-head of FA’s National Referee Development (2008)

A good referee need nerves of steel and a cool head … a strong personality and be able to exercise self-control, especially when provoked. You also need to communicate well with the players. If you go on the field with an arrogant, dictatorial attitude, it is very difficult to be accepted and win respect. A glance from the referee should be enough to make a player understand that he is breaking the rules. Body language is very important, especially when you cannot communicate in a foreign language. Sometimes everything can depend on the way you look at a player. – Massimo Busacca, Fifa & World Cup referee (2006)

Staying calm and focused is one of the golden rules of refereeing. – Pierluigi Collina, 2002 World Cup Final referee (The Rules of the Game, 2003)


Watching FIFA’s history of World Cup 1990 (Italy), 1994 (USA), 1998 (France) 2002 (South Korea & Japan) and 2006 (Germany) I noticed  the gradual and sophisticated improvement of referees’ communicative skills over the last 2 decades, in particular body language referees utilize to control football matches. Experienced referees are often masterful in their self awareness and control over communicative body language.

Referee Roberto Rosetti of Italy using his personality, presence and body language to handle a protest from French captain Zidane (Spain vs France, World Cup 2006)

However, elite referees have the advantages of natural abilities and aptitudes, helped by the experience of hundreds – or even thousands – of games officiated, as well as rigorous, regular and expert mentoring and feedback from referee instructors. Most amateur referees are committed and willing, but do not have such advantages.

There is little evidence and studies on which to base match officials communication and body language skill training. A recent review of empirical scientific literature found that there are very few articles that “specifically examine communication skills in sports officials.” (Mascarenhas et al, 2005). This shortage of research data helps to explain the lack of communication practice and training in formal referee curricula. There is a dire shortage of specific training tasks for referee communication skills.

Most elite level referees acquired their communicative skills through many years of officiating matches and, of late at the highest level, only some perceptual-cognitive specialized training with feedback. MacMahon et al. (2007) also notes there are few exercises available for assisting referees to develop more effective communication and interaction skills with players. Although the importance of communication is widely recognized and conventional referee wisdom at amateur and pro levels are plentiful, the processes and importance of certain communication displays through the medium of body language are often not well understood. The point is stressed by some scholars that future sports research should explore and examine the training referees receive in communicative skills and the use of body language.

"Sometimes everything can depend on the way you look at a player."

Referee training programs at most levels of officiating tend to emphasize acquisition of knowledge of the Laws of the Game, physical strength and conditioning exercises, largely overlooking referee skills in decision-making and communication. Referees are often required to perform at a high level in a complex and dynamic match environment when only partial or incomplete information is available to them due to various factors (angle of view, split-second decisions, non-availability of video replays etc.). Blowing the whistle and calling on field fouls use to be a simple process. Not so in the modern game, as successful performance (to stay in the top officiating panels) is typically dependent upon the ability of  match officials to work both independently and as a team in an effective manner by combining their perceptual -, cognitive -, motor – as well social skills.

At all levels, referees execute and communicate their decisions under stressful match conditions. The stress factor ratchets progressively higher as referees themselves get promoted to top officiating structures. Stress is omni-present due to, in no small part, ever-present video broadcasts and the financial stakes involved. Even at amateur levels referees don’t escape from stress. As David Elleray, Fifa & EUFA Referee Instructor succinctly noted:

“Every time the referee blows his whistle, he upsets half the players and roughly half the crowd.”

Referees frequently debate the most effective techniques and each have an opinion about the best way to communicate their onfield decisions. Conventional and well supported referee wisdom dictates that referees should execute and communicate their decisions calmly, and that a brief explanation of decisions in certain circumstances improves player reactions. Take for instance the act of displaying a yellow card (caution) to a player and the apparent conflicting views expounded by various referees …

you can’t issue a card unless you have a very good reason for giving one. Some referees just issue them like confetti and it can get frustrating for players when they don’t know what they get it for. By saying to a player “your being cautioned for this” your explaining you know the LOTG [laws of the game] and that his actions are unacceptable and all players are warned that if it occurs again they will receive the same punishment!

… a simple one line when issuing a card is sufficient, it gives understanding and complete openness … trust me if a player has a go at you and asks you a question, those referee who don’t respond or completely ignore players often struggle to control games … communication is such a big thing in any sport and it is paramount that, as referees, we keep communication lines open and don’t just “pick and choose” when we communicate with players using our tongues! By doing this it slows the match down and takes the heat out of the situation.

Personally, the less you say the better in my opinion. They’ve committed a foul worthy of a yellow card so they know what they’ve done. Anything you say will incite them, especially if you manage to say the wrong thing. I show the card as I’m walking in from where I was. Simple technique. (Ausref Forum, 2007)

The different approaches above reflect the complexity of human interpersonal action and individual differences in referees personalities, experiences and beliefs. It could be argued that in different circumstances each approach might be the best or the worst to adopt. But the different approaches also illustrate what Mellick et al. (2005) called the variable “hidden curriculum” referees rely on to develop their communication skills.

This hidden curriculum is based on personal experience in and outside football, and advice from refereeing assessors, colleagues and mentors, not all of whom are always experts. The advice referees receive about appropriate use of tone, gesture and talking with players is largely based on hearsay, and often conflicted. Some referees advise a personable style with a focus on respect for players, others recommend a terse style with a focus on detachment and maintaining their authority (Simmons, 2008). Complicating the issue is the referee’s endavour in displaying a calm body language whilst dealing with players and onfield problems – a difficult skill to learn at best.

Why then is communication skills and body language so important in the world of refereeing? Swiss sports psychologist Mattia Piffaretti, tasked by the European Football Association (EUFA) to help Elite referees on this matter, has this to say:

“Part of the art of good refereeing is finding the right balance in decision making, communication and discipline. A referee’s use of body language can establish relationships on the field with the players, while also remaining in control of a match. It can show confidence, calmness, firmness, authority, or even the referee’s human side if a player is injured, for example.”

Swedish referee Peter Fröjdfeldt showing empathy (Germany vs Portugal, World Cup 2006)

“Referees use body language to enhance performance, show leadership, enhance game management skills such as mediating and creating a connection, and to win trust and respect from players. Body language should be changed to suit the situation. It is a form of communication; it needs to be natural and fluent.

“But you have to make reasonable use of body language, because players might start to perceive you more as a friend than as a leader.”

“You don’t have to show off or exaggerate. You have to use the right quantity and quality of body language – otherwise you will force yourself into a character which you were not, and players will perceive this. You have to remain yourself.”

Piffaretti identifies four key reasons why referees’ body language is such a crucial part of their communication skill.

(1) Body language skill transcends language barriers;

(2) It’s very useful in a noisy match environment where verbal communication can be difficult;

(3) Body language can have an immediate effect, reducing the need for a referee to stop a match to address an issue verbally.

(4) Sometimes it’s difficult to address players’ emotions in words, so the referee can use gestures instead.

Studies show that we communicate roughly 55% through body language, 38% through the tone of our voice and 7% through the actual content of what we say. Referees in the top echelons of officiating know that body language, in addition to player-management, are central to effective refereeing and quality football.

Simmons, in a recent study presented to Fifa’s Scientific Committee in 2008, underscored the importance of communicative skills for referees. The conclusion reached (inter alia) is that proper communication skills influences player perceptions of fairness and correctness in referee decisions and referees will benefit from their understanding and mastery thereof. I will come back later to Simmons insightful study, sponsored by the  João Havelange Research Scholarship. It should be made required reading for all upcoming and experienced referees.

However, Simmons is also quick to note that for some players, who are intoxicated by revenge or rage (or substance!), referee communicative skill will have no influence, but that generally referee sensitivity to players and situations are doubtless important.

It seems no amount of communicative skill would have “saved” referee Andy D’Urso from being chased around the field given the verbal onslaught from United captain Roy Keane & company. (Manchester United v Middlesbrough, 2000.)

Referee Andy D’Urso (above) awarded Middlesbrough a penalty kick due to a foul committed by Dutch defender Jaap Stam. Upon awarding the penalty kick, five Manchester United players (Jaap Stam, Roy Keane, Nicky Butt, Ryan Giggs and David Beckham) chased D’Urso to object the decision; the resulting video images were freely circulated by the media. D’Urso himself offers a solution, with the benefit of hindsight:

“It was my first season in the Premier League, my first time refereeing Manchester United and my first time at Old Trafford. With more experience I would have stood my ground. I kept saying “go away”, but the further back I walked the more they walked on. A more experienced referee would not have retreated.” See the video.

In part 2 I will soon give some pointers on what communication tools the referee has at his disposal and how to use these tools to the best advantage in controlling a match.

PS: I have just been informed I am to officiate the 1/2 Final of a  knock-out competition. So much for thinking my season came to an end, so match preparation will start in earnest.

Until later…


Fifa 2010 World Cup Referees – a photo list

Massimo Busacca (Switzerland, rated #1, born 1969)
Roberto Rosetti (Italy, rated #2, born 1967)
Howard Webb (England, rated #3, born 1971)
Jorge Larrionda (Uruguay, rated #4, born 1968)
Frank de Bleeckere (Belgium, rated #5, born 1966)
Wolfgang Stark (Germany, rated # 9, born 1969)
Hector Baldassi (Argentina, rated #10, born 1966)
Carlos Amarilla (Paraguay, rated # 12, born 1970)

Note: Amarilla will not officiate in the 2010 World Cup due to one of his assistant’s failing his fitness test – see here.

Alberto Undiano Mallenco (Spain, rated # 13, born 1973)
Ravshan Irmatov (Uzbekistan, rated #15, born 1977)
Oscar Ruiz Acosta (Colombia, rated # 16, born 1969)
Benito Archundia (Mexico, rated #18, born 1966)
Martin Hansson (Sweden, rated #19, born 1971)
Eddy Maillet (Seychelles, rated #24, born 1967)
Marco Rodriquez Moreno (Mexico, rated # 25, born 1973)
Jerome Kelvin Damon (South Africa, born 1972)
Yuichi Nashimura (Japan, born 1972)
Joel Aquilar Chicas (El Salvador, born 1975)
Michael Hester (New Zealand, born 1972)
Peter O'Leary (New Zealand, born 1972)
Viktor Kassai (Hungary, born 1975)
Pablo Pozo (Chile, born 1973)
Olegario Benquerenca (Portugal, born 1969)
Stephane Laurent Lannoy (France, born 1969)
Carlos Eugenio Simon (Brazil, born 1965)
Carlos Batres (Guatemala, born 1968)
Koman Coulibaly (Mali, born 1970)
Mohamed Benouza (Algeria, born 1972)

Note: Benouza will not officiate in the 2010 World Cup due to one of his assistant’s failing his fitness test – see here

Kahlil Al Ghamdi (Saudia Arabia, born 1970)
Subkhidden Mohd Salleh (Malaysia, born 1966)

EDIT: 27 May 2010 — Martín Vázquez from Uruguay has been announced as replacement for  Amarilla’s Paraguayan team. Fifa will not call in a replacement for the Benouza (Algerian) trio of referees.

Referee Martin Vazquez (with assistants Carlos Pastorino & Miguel Nievas, all from Uruguay) was called in by Fifa to replace the referee trios headed by Amarilla & Benouza.

The above 2010 FIFA World Cup middle referee  list is provisional. Provisional in the sense that they all must pass their final hurdle, a fitness test. The World Cup African contingent of trios/referees will be evaluated at my hometown Coetzenburg Athletics Track, Stellenbosch, on 8th May under the auspices of South African FIFA co-ordinator Carlos Henriques.

For a list of all the World Cup assistant referees, see here.

We are not gods.  We make mistakes. — Swiss referee Massimo Busacca to Greek player Basinas (Greece vs Sweden, Euro 2008) – see the critically acclaimed film, Les Arbitres.

Coetzenburg Track, Stellenbosch, South Africa

The FIFA World Cup is the biggest test an international referee will ever face, both professionally and personally. Of the 29 referees representing 26 nations (Uruguay, New Zealand & Mexico have 2 middle referees each) taking charge of the 64 World Cup games in the month-long tourney in South Africa, 10 are from Europe, 6 from South America, 4 from Asia, 4 from the CONCACAF region, 3 from Africa and 2 from New Zealand. Each referee has his team of two assistants who have worked with him over many months in various FIFA international and Association tournaments, their performance and fitness constantly being monitor by the FIFA Referee Committee.

During the tournament, the referees and assistants will be swathed in a protective blanket of security, locked away from the world’s prying eyes at a luxury hotel where they will be provided with a continuous healthy diet, sports psychologists to boost their confidence and video technological tools for briefing/debriefing to allow them to study the strengths, weaknesses and favourite ploys of the teams they will be officiating.

It has been a 3-year+ journey for all the pre-selected World Cup referees and after many reductions on the final referee list, countless fitness evaluations, workshops, aptitude tests and constant health & diet monitoring , these are the men that FIFA trust to control the greatest sporting event on the planet.

I wish all the above FIFA referees, assistants (and their families) the very best and may your dreams be fulfilled!

Have a great Whistle & Flag!

Referee Busacca voted tops in 2009

International Top Referee List for 2009

Swiss Ref Massimo Busacca voted the top match official for 2009

Swiss Referee Massimo Busacca has been voted as the top international football official in the 2009 IFFHS list, garnering 225 criteria votes.  Runner-up on the 2009 list is Italian Roberto Rosetti with 147 votes. He topped the list in 2008.  Third is English referee Howard Webb with 52 criteria votes.

All three referees are in the final group for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and are expected to officiate in the tournament that starts on 11 June.

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