x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Managers must lead by example in behaviour towards officials

While common sense prevailed in upholding the Al Ahli-Al Ain result, abusing officials needs to be nipped in the bud.

Mohamed Al Mehairi, second left, was hit by a missile thrown from the Al Ahli supporters' section at the Rashid Stadium.
Mohamed Al Mehairi, second left, was hit by a missile thrown from the Al Ahli supporters' section at the Rashid Stadium.

Regardless of the outcome of Disciplinary Committee decision, haranguing officials needs to be nipped in the bud

It is arguably the biggest controversy to hit the Pro League since its inception in 2008. On Saturday, with the score at 0-0, the match between Al Ahli and visitors Al Ain was suspended with minutes to go after the referee's assistant Mohammed Al Mehairi, after refusing to award a penalty to the home side, was hit by a missile from the crowd.

While the Pro League Disciplinary Committee continued to wrestle yesterday with a determination of whether to let the match result stand, rule it a forfeit or take another route, it was an injury that no bandage could cover.

The host club, clearly remorseful, have threatened a lifetime ban on the offending individual, if identified.

"This is completely against the laws and the spirit of the game, and something we never expected to happen in a match here," Ahmed Khalifa, the Ahli chief executive, said. "There was nothing to suggest it would end in such a tragic way."

And yet a black mark will hang over this match, the record books showing an asterisk signalling the moment that crowd violence made an unwelcome return to UAE football grounds.

Such incidents are rare in this country. But one injury to an official is one too many, and it is a problem that needs to be nipped in the bud. Punishing clubs for the actions of their fans may get results, but prevention must be a priority.

And here, club managers must shoulder the blame.

Hardly a week goes by without one coach or another, not to mention players, criticising the performances of Pro League referees and their assistants.

And while expressing dissatisfaction with isolated incidents may be reasonable, on occasion, often the criticisms cross the boundaries of acceptability. That, and the incessant abuse of officials emanating from the technical areas, increasingly put referees in a crossfire and potentially incite excitable fans.

Match stick, meet kindling.

Such haranguing of the referees and assistants is hardly a new or local phenomenon and is common across some of the top leagues in Europe and South America.

Already this season, there have been several examples of English Premier League managers being punished for attacking referees.

In October, Roberto Martinez, the Wigan Athletic manager, was fined £8,000 (Dh45,000) by the English Football Association for criticising a referee after his team's loss to Manchester United. In February, West Ham United's Sam Allardyce also coughed up £8,000 after being found guilty of misconduct, namely, accusing a referee of bias in an FA Cup replay, also against Manchester United.

And United manager Sir Alex Ferguson himself was fined £12,000 for an outburst against the referee's assistant Simon Beck, who declined to award a penalty for a perceived foul on Wayne Rooney midway through the second half of the 1-1 draw with Tottenham Hotspur, an incident similar to the one that took place at Rashid Stadium on Saturday.

No wonder fans of just about every club believe referees show bias against them. It would be naive in the extreme to think that such disciplinary action will eliminate abuse of referees by managers, players or fans. And it must be remembered that the safety of players and managers is at risk just as much. (In December, Rio Ferdinand was struck by a missile from the crowd at the end of the Manchester derby at Etihad Stadium.)

But punishing such incidents will attempt to put a stop to the constant vilification of the officials and ensure that clubs are held accountable for their actions.

For now, perspective and common sense are necessary. Saturday's incident was an isolated one, and Al Ahli have expressed remorse and support for the officials. Other clubs must follow their example and condemn incitement against referees.

Pro League officials continue to consider their options, with a decision expected tomorrow.

Let us hope the committee, by eliminating the target on the referees' collective backs, never has to make such a decision again.

akhaled@thenational.ae

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