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Fifa-badge holding Indian referees fail AFC fitness tests, AIFF sidelines them

Jaydeep Basu

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Indian referees
Indian referees have coped a fair bit of criticism in recent times. Photos: Google

New Delhi: On October 14 in Kuala Lumpur, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) scored a spectacular result.

It tabled a roadmap for Indian football, which received wholehearted backing of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). A one hundred per cent success rate.

In the last week of November, in the same city, India’s national federation “achieved” yet another hundred per cent result on the sidelines of AFC refereeing conference. This time it was on the negative side.

Three of its FIFA referees appeared for fitness tests. All three failed to clear the tests.

To be fair with the refs and everyone attached with the issue involved, such results are part and parcel of the game. The three, who returned home unsuccessful, are highly competent “whistleblowers”. Often they have proved their ability. In India and abroad.

Yet, when three of country’s six listed FIFA referees come up with embarrassing results, eyebrows get automatically raised. And not brows alone. It also raises questions about the ability of the people, who runs the show here.

Indian referees

In the past, Professional Game Match Officials Limited has trained AIFF affiliated Indian match officials.

A senior AIFF official said: “Strict action has been taken against those who bungled in KL. Their immediate domestic postings have been cancelled. They will be made to appear in tests again before they can return to the pitch.”

A highly satisfactory action indeed. Strict too. It proves AIFF does not believe in hanky-panky.

The other side of the story gives a different version. It claims that lack of proper planning, encouragement and motivation have made Indian refereeing go haywire. The problem is far deep-rooted than keeping a few referees out for few months.

The biggest complaint is the abrupt closure of the “professional referees” project before starting it again after a year or so with limited number of beneficiaries.

It was a project that took Indian refereeing to a greater height. For sure. To close it down suddenly was a huge blow. Fund is definitely a problem. Agreed. But a professional referee was costing no more than Rs 30,000 per month.

Referees are scared to speak. The AIFF has decided to deal with an iron hand if anyone dares to open their mouth against the ongoing system publicly.

AIFF wide of the mark to sack Indian Arrows coach

The minutes of AIFF referees’ committee meeting on July 19, 2019 says: “It was decided to take up the matter with the match officials or show cause them if any of them approach or express their opinion in the media regarding refereeing/AIFF.” It has received executive committee’s stamp of approval.

Yet, there are allegations of referees being subject to poor treatment by people running the show. They are often at the receiving end of caustic remarks, bordering parochialism. But these allegations are hard to prove. So, shouldn’t be taken on face value.

But what the AIFF could do is to monitor whether the referees’ developmental programme are being conducted in the right spirit or not. Whether people are getting plum postings on merit or not. Whether some people are wearing more than one hat or not. Whether right people with right credentials have been appointed at the right places or not.

No one is claiming Indian refereeing is at its glorious best. It has never been. It has to be as good as its country’s football standard is. But they are entitled to receive some protection too. Open criticism of their performance is not always a welcome sign.

Indian referees

The development of Indian referees has often been neglected.

In the ongoing franchise league and I-League, the standard of supervision has left a lot to be desired. Definitely. Coaches and franchise officials have often lambasted decisions. They were not far from the truth. Certainly not.

One, however, is curious to know what the tournament regulations say. Is it open to such democratic ideas? If not, has any action being initiated against these officials? Furthermore, what the referees’ committee has to say on it?

Recently, a source-based report appeared saying the franchise-based league is unhappy with the refereeing standard. It “voiced its concern due to glaring mistakes referees have committed on the field….” The report has to be true since it has not been countered.

All these developments lead to an uncomfortable feeling. To bench three referees alone won’t solve the problem. A lot more people need similar treatment. Seriously.

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