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Referees urged to protect football

Refereeing About UEFA

Making a contribution to nurturing the image of the beautiful game – a key instruction to Europe’s referees as they prepare for another challenging season of domestic and international action.

UEFA chief refereeing officer Roberto Rosetti
UEFA chief refereeing officer Roberto Rosetti UEFA via Getty Images

Speaking at a media briefing in Monaco on Wednesday, UEFA’s chief refereeing officer Roberto Rosetti insisted that that time had come to put an end to instances of poor conduct by players and coaches – citing the particularly negative impact of such behaviour on public opinion and younger football fans.

"Enough is enough – it’s time to act," Rosetti said as he urged referees to show strength and courage and give yellow cards for actions such as dissent, running towards the referee, mobbing or any kind of unsporting behaviour.

"Yellow cards must be shown for attempts to deceive the referee, feigning injury, simulation or exaggeration, or delaying the restart of the game," he added. "And in cases of offensive or inflammatory conduct such as insults or abuse, the punishment should be a red card. Of course, football is a game of emotions – but a player or coach insulting or abusing a referee cannot be considered as an emotion.

"It is our duty to protect football’s image, and we must seize this opportunity for change," Rosetti explained. "Certain behaviour cannot be tolerated anymore. We must set a good example for boys and girls who love the game. We want our referees to be robust and take action." Europe’s top referees will be briefed on what is expected of them on this respect at their UEFA summer course in Geneva next week.

VAR’s positive effect

Rosetti highlighted the positive impact that the video assistant refereeing (VAR) system was having on football and gave assurances that every effort would be made to continue fine-tuning a system that was a now a crucial element of the decision-making process on the field.

"VAR is now a part of football," Rosetti reflected. "We can’t imagine the game at the top level without VAR. When the system was introduced in 2018/19, it was deployed in 55 matches. Last season, VAR was used at just over 1,800 matches across UEFA competitions. A huge amount of work is going into VAR."

The system, Rosetti said, was in place, among others, to rectify clear and obvious errors and serve to help referees. However, he insisted that VAR should not become a focal point through over-use in matches. "While interventions are obviously necessary in certain situations, we actually want to see a decrease in VAR interventions – we feel strongly that referees must remain at the centre of a game and be taking the decisions."

Rosetti welcomed the positive effect that Semi-Automated Offside Technology (SAOT) was having on VAR and football in general. SAOT, he said, was enabling video assistant referee (VAR) teams to determine offside situations quickly and more precisely. "The system is working very well in terms of accuracy and faster decision-making," he explained. "Offside is no longer an issue for us."

Handball understanding

Rosetti told journalists that handball continued to be a topic for discussion, but that efforts were being made to rectify issues that were causing controversy. "We must try and take into account the movement of players in making decisions related to handball," Rosetti explained. "Not every touch of a player’s hand or arm with the ball is an offence," he said.

Situations where players deliberately touch the ball with their hand or arm by moving their hand/arm towards the ball, or touch the ball with their hand/arm when making their body unnaturally bigger, would still be considered an offence, Rosetti said. Clearly deliberate handball offences should also continue to be punished.

However, Rosetti added that the vast majority of punishable handballs were not deliberate handballs, but merely the consequence of a player’s arm, for example, being in an unnatural position. Nor should a player be penalised when a ball was deflected in a direction that was unexpected.

"Disciplinary sanctions for unintentional handball offences are not readily understood, and the consequences are too harsh when the player committing such an offence has already been cautioned before – the player is shown a red or second yellow card, a penalty is given, and a player is suspended."

"We must be aware that football is a sport of athleticism and movement," Rosetti explained, "and we will ask referees and VARs to show understanding for this."

'Speaking one language'

Rosetti concluded that the discussion process on refereeing involving football’s stakeholders – especially within UEFA’s new Football Board comprising leading former players and elite coaches – was proving fruitful and rewarding

"We’re all working together successfully, with UEFA’s member associations as well," he said, "because we want to see a situation where decisions are consistent and uniform everywhere – our clear target is for everyone to speak one and the same technical language."

This week, UEFA launched "Be a Referee!" - a new campaign to recruit more match officials across Europe. Find out more here.

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