Seeking to address simmering tensions following Saturday’s Sydney Derby, FFA spokesperson Clive Umani told journalists on Tuesday that clubs are asking too much of the A-League’s part-time referees, who cannot protect players against both horror injuries and racism at the same time.
Following Western Sydney Wanderers enforcer Iacopo La Rocca’s challenge on Sydney FC midfielder Ali Abbas, which left the latter crippled with multiple ligament tears, Umani said referee Peter Green focused on listening for racial comments, so was unable to simultaneously judge the legitimacy of La Rocca’s challenge.
“After last season’s final Sydney Derby, all clubs have made it very clear they don’t want their players subjected to racial abuse and we have instructed referees to make paying attention to what players are saying their number one priority.”
Umani revealed the FFA has instructed referees to close their eyes during games in an attempt to drown out the crowd noise, so they can better hear the players.
“Why do you think referees have missed obvious bad tackles? It’s understandably not easy to see these things with your eyes closed.”
“Now all we’re hearing are complaints that referees aren’t preventing serious injury to players. What do clubs want exactly? These refs are only part-timers after all.”
With some red cards issued for dangerous tackles this season against players like Vitor Saba and Ruben Zadkovich, Umani says the referees who issued those cards said afterwards they were afraid they might have missed disgraceful remarks from players while focusing on the tackles.
“Who knows what comments weren’t heard when Saba and Zadkovich were sent off?” Umani said. “The referees were understandably upset after the game. They wish they could focus on two things at once but they’re simply not at that level.”
Umani admitted that the FFA have been unprepared for the widening gulf between A-League referees and the growing intensity of games.
“When the A-League launched, we thought it would take decades for quality of play to reach the level where you could have both racial abuse and tackles leading to crippling injuries taking place on the field at the same time, so we budgeted accordingly with part-time contracts.”
“However, we’re not a charity, and if clubs want referees to be so super-human that they can offer multiple levels of protection for players on the field, they’ll need to cough up. Otherwise, they need to ask themselves, what’s more important to them: a player’s physical well-being, or their right to avoid being discriminated against?”