Thursday, 5 April 2012

On head-butts, penalties and "strange" officials

Muangthong play TOT on Sunday @1830, Yamaha Stadium. I've introduced TOT before and the only real change in the scenario is that Kone is now back on the right side and Christian is back in contention. As I will mention in the following article, a TOT player recently headbutted a ref, not the first time the club has caused trouble.

The Thai FA did a bit of housekeeping this week with several fines, suspensions and general bottom-smacking being dished out. The top priority was officiating with several complainants coming forward including a dispute between BG and Pattaya (2 goals disallowed) and a shocking non-penalty in a match involving Korat FC. However the biggest headline grabber was the complaint by MTU concerning last week’s thriller against Chai Nat in which one MTU goal from Teerasil was disallowed, a very, very soft penalty was awarded to Chainat and MTU players were falsely flagged offside no less than three times. In another serious case, a TOT player head-butted a referee! (See the clip here )

The severity and nature of punishments for these and other offences has been, to put it gently, inconsistent. Fines and suspensions have been dished out impetuously with no apparent minimum, benchmark or standard procedure in sight. In our case, both the referee and the linesman have been suspended. No action has been taken against the TOT player yet.

On the one hand, we should applaud the TFA for taking any action whatsoever. As strange as that may sound, those of us who know Thailand know how it can sometimes be impossible to prompt any action to be taken by bureaucracy at all. Many countries close to Thailand have been known to simply ignore complaints and allegations of corruption in football.

On the other hand, I do wish we could find some composure in the way these cases are dealt with. At the moment, the impression is that the Thai FA (TFA) deals with any form of complaint or problem by having a “meeting” (Thai bureaucrats love meetings, committees and pretend deadlines) and deciding how to handle each case as it comes up. This isn’t a bad system per se but it leaves itself wide open to allegations of favouritism, undue influence and simple human error. If the referee from the Korat game is not punished for failing to award what could be the most obvious penalty and red card in history - a case so clear even the offender seemed shocked nothing was done - then Korat fans might be tempted to look at Muangthong’s board with its connections to the Thai FA and the different bank balances between the two clubs and ask rightly or wrongly: “Is that the reason for the different outcomes?”.

I also question the long term wisdom of simply suspending officials. While it might provide a rather satisfying sense of retribution for fans, it offers no future benefit. If a referee/linesman disallows a legal goal, awards a very soft penalty and falsely flags a player offside then he is either:

a) incompetent or
b) “got at”

If the case is “a” then the TFA should decide if further training will bring the official up to scratch. After all, it’s worth remembering that the explosion of Thai footie has left officials behind. Most have been deprived of further development training to keep them up to speed with the thousands of knowledgeable fans flooding in to watch the big clubs. So in this case the official should, logically, be sent for further training. On the other hand, if the powers that be think the individual is simply incapable, he should be sacked. Merely suspending him means that he’ll be back making the same mistakes soon.

On the other hand if the board have evidence or simply believe that a disallowed goal, soft penalty and three incorrect offsides against the same team is too much of a coincidence for one game, then the answer is “b”. In this case a full investigation (no doubt a “committee” would be set up with a random deadline) should be launched and if found guilty, the offender should be subject to criminal proceedings. This is not simply for the sake of justice itself, but also to send a message that corruption will not be tolerated. Again, a suspension simply means that it will all be forgotten and forgiven in three weeks.

So in either case, the job has not been fully done. Thank you and “well done” to the Thai FA for doing their best to get things straight, but we need more. But while we are discussing the integrity of officials, we also have to be very sure we protect them. I believe a zero tolerance policy of violence towards officials is needed and the TOT player who gave a referee a Glaswegian kiss should receive a life ban.

We need clear, published rules in Thai and English explaining each offence, the minimum punishment and the procedure and personnel responsible for further investigation. We also need to know what preventative measures are being taken to protect officials, reduce the number of incidents and take Thai football to the next level.

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