Grass roots football is in danger throughout the world.
It is in danger from professional footballers.
Highly paid, famous, adored, worshipped, international footballers are threatening to kill the game they love and the game that made them into superstars, through their treatment of referees.
Elite footballers treat referees with little to no respect. Every decision is questioned and debated and contentious decisions, which are bound to be made by a referee who is only human, are greeted with aggressive, threatening, abusive, disrespectful and even physical intimidation of referees.
In some countries and some competitions a degree of protection is awarded to referees, but in other countries referees are constant targets of abuse (and in the most extreme cases death threats or murder).
The most salient example of constant mistreatment of referees can be found in the world’s top leagues, such as the English Premier League, Serie A, and La Liga, which feature the world’s best players.
If anyone doubts the extent of referee mistreatment among the world’s top leagues, do a quick google search and observe the number of images of the world’s most famous footballers yelling or screaming at referees, pointing a finger at them or standing over them. Also, observe the number of images containing groups of players surrounding referees and protesting a decision.
By the way, how many times has a referee ever reversed a decision after being yelled at by a player?
It’s just part of the game.
Many people within the football community would argue that this is just part of the game. Players are under enormous pressure to win at all costs and justify their enormous pay packets and their treatment of the referee is simply a modern feature of gamesmanship.
Ironically, there is less tolerance of referee abuse in other football codes, which are self-declared contact sports. In highly confrontational sport such as Rugby League, Rugby Union, Australian Rules Football and American Football, touching the referee, even slightly, results in harsh punishments and possibly a red card or a suspension from future matches.
In football, in many parts of the world, touching a referee is common.
How does this affect grass roots football?
Young people imitate their heroes.
They imitate their style of play, their tactics, their tricks and even their hairstyles and the brand of shoes they wear.
Young people also imitate the players’ behaviour towards referees.
When a young person sees an elite player abusing a referee, especially a player from one of the world’s top leagues, they will feel permitted to do the same when playing for their school or local club.
Admittedly, most young players do respect referees. Most clubs and coaches, throughout the world, teach young players to abide by the rules of the game and often use sport as a vehicle for teaching young people life lessons such as courtesy and respect.
However, many societies continue to promote sportspeople, including footballers, as role models to young people and role models are people whose behaviour is supposed to be emulated.
It must be remembered, also, that international football megastars who are marketed and promoted as superhuman can impact the behaviour of young people a lot more than their parents, coaches, teachers and a lowly paid or volunteer referee at their local football game.
Surely the referee could just send off the young player.
They could, but the junior player is likely to object to this (as may some overzealous parents on the sideline) especially when the superstar was not sent off for the same behaviour, or even sanctioned, when the young starry-eyed player was watching their hero on the big screen the night before.
Furthermore, what if more than one young player mistreats the referee? Does the referee then send off two, three or more players from each team?
Why is this such a big problem?
Referees at junior level will only tolerate so much. They’re human beings and if they continue to be disrespected by young people and/or their parents, they will cease to referee. Remember, most referees of grass roots football are volunteers and those that receive some payment, don’t receive much – certainly not enough to put up with a tirade of abuse from a deluded schoolkid or their aggressive parents.
The end result is no referees, and no referees means no football.
Images: http://www.telegraph.co.uk, Mark Atkins/Offside
P.S. No, I don’t have anything against Leicester or Chelsea, the photos just happened to be perfect examples of this issue and they just were two of many, many photos. If you must know, I support Liverpool in the EPL.