Referees protecting football's image

Europe's referees are being asked to protect football's image on the pitch, punish bad behaviour and protect players from challenges that could put their safety at risk.

Liverpool players shake hands with match officials
Liverpool players shake hands with match officials ©Getty Images

Europe's referees are being asked to play their part in protecting football's image as the second half of the European club competition season gets under way.

The match officials act as ambassadors for the game, and are responsible not only for upholding the laws on the field of play, but also for protecting the players and ensuring their safety – and they are being instructed to punish those who commit offences or behave in a way that has an impact on how football is perceived.

UEFA's matches are seen throughout the world, and the European body is determined that a positive image of the game should be shown, in particular to younger fans who regularly watch the stars in action.

Consequently, referees are urged to take proper sanctions against players who commit serious foul play or make reckless challenges that might injure an opponent and endanger a career.

"We need to have players playing, so they must be protected on the field," says UEFA's chief refereeing officer Pierluigi Collina. "We do not want situations where a player's future is put in doubt because of serious injury caused by a challenge, whether it is intentional, or is unintentional and the player making the challenge is taking a risk of causing injury.

"Players must understand that they have to respect their opponents and show the same positive behaviour to them that they would want to receive themselves."

Referees will punish players who deny opponents an obvious goalscoring opportunity. They are also called upon not to tolerate mobbing by players to exert pressure on them, or any other type of provocation towards them. "When I see mobbing of a referee," Collina says, "it's something that is not acceptable – this is not the message that we want the game to convey."

Collina believes that the more mutual respect there is between players and referees, the better the chances are of an entertaining match experience for the fans. "If this is the case, I think everyone does their job on the field better," he explains.

"You're also showing respect towards spectators in this way – football is a show, it's a spectacle, and fans want to enjoy the spectacle."

Collina is hopeful that things are moving in a positive direction. In a recent example, players and coaches were commended for their overall behaviour at UEFA EURO 2016 – a key factor having been the pre-tournament visits made by UEFA Referees Committee members to the 24 teams to brief them on how the Laws of the Game would be interpreted, and what UEFA and the referees expected in terms of their conduct.

The move was a success, because the meetings helped everyone – players, referees and coaches – to 'speak the same language'.

Players and coaches are being given the message to show more of the same good conduct as the UEFA club competitions enter the exciting knockout phase.

"Football is a beautiful game," Collina reflects. "And we want it to stay that way ..."