Thursday 21 December 2023, 18:45

Football leaders urged to stop the “cancer” of violence against referees

  • Violence against referees identified as a global problem at all levels of football

  • FIFA President appeals to all football’s leaders to set good example

  • Pierluigi Collina said violence is “a cancer that could kill football”

Violence against referees is a cancer and football leaders need to set an example and act to stop it, FIFA President Gianni Infantino and Pierluigi Collina, Chairman of the FIFA Referees Committee, told delegates from FIFA Member Associations attending the FIFA Football Summit 2023. In his concluding remarks to the Summit, held in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on the eve of the FIFA Club World Cup 2023™ final, the FIFA President emphasised that the referees were FIFA’s Team One. “Without referees, there’s no football,” he said. “We all have to fight…against any sort of abuse and violence against referees, but also to bring back respect and tolerance.”

Reminding football’s leaders of their duty to set an example, he added: “This starts with us, this starts with you, with the leaders of football, with the way we speak, with the way we act…We have to take responsibility (as) what we do has an impact on many girls and boys - not just a positive one but also a negative one.”

In the latest incident to shock the football world this year, FIFA referee Halil Umut Meler was taken to hospital after he was attacked at the end of the Turkish Süper Lig match between MKE Ankaragücü and Çaykur Rizespor on Monday, 11 December.

Pierluigi Collina, who refereed the FIFA World Cup 2002™ final, said it was not just Türkiye’s problem, and that did not only affect top-level football – far from it. Speaking during a panel on refereeing, he said: “This (incident) was reported by (the) media but there are a lot of incidents which don’t capture the attention of the media, involving referees in amateur leagues, in grassroots football. Most of these referees are youngsters, boys and girls. Most of these referees face verbal or even physical assaults. They are verbally and physically abused. And those who abuse them, most of the time, are the parents of the boys and girls who are playing the match. This is not acceptable. Enough is enough. This is the cancer that can kill football. It’s true. I beg the leaders of football around the world to do something before it is too late. Enough is enough.” Tori Penso, who refereed the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023™ final, and Szymon Marciniak, who took charge of the FIFA World Cup 2022™ final, were also on the panel.

FIFA Referee Committee Chairman Pierluigi Collina with referees Szymon Marciniak and Tori Penso during the FIFA Football Summit 2023

Tori Penso said more people should try their hand at refereeing; “I encourage everyone to pick up a whistle and give it a try, you might just be surprised. And I encourage you all to invest in referees, make sure it's part of your strategic initiatives and your plans because if you invest in officials and give them the tools and the resources and the training and education that they need, I'm certain that they'll deliver for you.” Szymon Marciniak appealed to the FIFA Member Associations to support their referees. “Of course, players are the most important, but we need to remember that there will be no game, there will be no fair play rules without referees. This is true. And that's why my huge request to all federations, to all associations, is to support referees as much as possible, to invite young people to become referees.”

Referees Szymon Marciniak and Tori Penso during the FIFA Football Summit 2023

Pierluigi Collina said FIFA, which ran 388 courses for referees in 2023, was committed to developing referees globally. “We are looking for a new generation of referees all over the world,” he said. “The objective is to help you, member associations, to [develop] the new Tori Penso and the new Szymon Marciniak of the future.”

FIFA Referee Committee Chairman Pierluigi Collina during the FIFA Football Summit 2023