By: Suresh Nair
SINGAPORE referees stand tall in the region because they take referee education seriously as a key pre-season priority.
As the saying goes, there’s never an end to learning, and for the men-in-black, it’s critical to take stock of the latest amendments in the Laws of the Game.
Tuesday’s session at Jalan Besar Stadium saw referees and referee assessors given invaluable advice in technical and instructional sessions, designed to help them continue to achieve the standards that have made Singapore referees respected across the world.
“We need to ensure the FAS referees are consistently given the best possible education for their overall development,” said Head of FAS Referees Department (FASRD) K. Visvanathan. “Likewise we will be going to the S-League clubs, too, to update the players and officials so that they’re on par with the latest changes when the S-League starts end of February.”
I was privileged as a referee assessor to attend Tuesday’s session, conducted by FIFA Referee Instructor John Chia from Singapore. I must confess I came out of the three-hour session overwhelmed that the new trend is to have “intelligent referees” who just don’t simply go by the rule-book.
Indeed, the most important law is not written down – the so-called ‘Law 18’ – and this is simply about common sense.
“A referee may have a great knowledge and understanding of the Laws of the Game, but to apply them in a correct manner is a required skill. We’re encouraging every man-in-black to be intelligent match-officials, who think instantly and make the right decisions,” added Visvanathan, who officiated at the 2002 World Cup Finals in South Korea/Japan.
TOP-CLASS SINGAPORE REFEREES
Singapore referees, for the record, over the past four decades, have held the flag and whistle high at FIFA tournaments, from George Suppiah, who was the first Asian to officiate at the World Cup Finals in 1974 in Germany. He did the Poland versus Haiti match and later went on to be a classic sporting ambassador by making refereeing a noble art in 43 “A” international matches from 1953 to 1978 in Asia, Australia and Europe.
Shamsul Maidin is another exemplary new remake face of Singapore refereeing. He has officiated in the 1996, 2000 and 2004 AFC Asian Cups, as well as the 2001 and 2003 FIFA World Youth Championship, 2005 FIFA Confederations Cup and 2006 FIFA World Cup. He was also the only non-African referee at the 2006 African Cup of Nations. Today, he stands tall as the first Singaporean to be Director of Refereeing at the AFC (Asian Football Confederation) in Kuala Lumpur, overseeing referee development in more than 40 countries.
The latest role-model is Muhammad Taqi Jahari, a possible candidate for the 2018 World Cup Finals in Russia. He holds a Bachelor of Science (Upper second-class honours) and works with the FAS headquarters to mentor the younger generation of referees from tertiary institutions and schools.
Former Singapore coach Bernd Stange, now coaching Perth Glory in the Australian Soccer League (ASL), wrote over Facebook: “Referees in Singapore have a good standard compared to other countries in the region.”
The secret to success: TFASRD goes over the line to do assiduous pre-season work to continuously educate through the FIFA refereeing video clips that are shown to analyse match incidents and decisions, and explain potential trends that officials need to be aware of. The referees themselves are also encouraged to give feedback in the sessions as part of the overall drive for progress.
Consistent decision-making is a major aim for the FASRD and off-the-field video tests help to achieve this aim. “As an example, FIFA expects a referee from Singapore to have the same opinion when judging serious foul play as a referee from Saudi Arabia,” said instructor John Chia, who lectures regularly in Asia.
“It’s only fair to the competing clubs and national teams that the application of the laws is consistent, no matter which part of Asia, or for the matter, whichever continent, the referee comes from.”
Referees are duly alerted after FIFA monitors the trends in the global competitions, even women’s and age-group levels. For example, there’s a trend appearing for arms to be used illegally to fend off an opponent.
John Chia added: “We need to make referees aware of this so that they can position themselves appropriately and identify that kind of offence. Being very close to play is mandatory for every referee, as they rise up the ladder.”
Other topics covered in Tuesday’s pre-season session included value-added technical and education sessions which included offside, handball, playing the advantage and free-kick management.
He stressed that management skills are very important for the younger generation of referees. Chia said: “We encourage them how to communicate with the players, how to manage mass confrontation, how to deal with players without automatically reaching for a card. If you feel you can have a quiet word with a player, all the better, because people want to see players on the field of play and not sitting in the grandstand.”
Chia and his FASRD colleagues derive great satisfaction from their roles in educating referees, and putting their immense experience and knowledge at the service of the new generation of match officials.
“I can remember many, many moons ago when I sat in the room as a young referee and we were taught by former referees who you admired; people who taught you not only to be a top referee, but also a top instructor,” he recalled. “You learned from them and made use of what you learned in instructing others later on.
“It does give you great satisfaction to see the younger referees who you started them at youth tournaments, later go on to take charge of S-League matches and move up the ladder to appear at major Asean and Asian tournaments. You feel you’ve had some input into their success.”
He hoped that the outcomes from Tuesday’s session will be felt throughout the season as the S-League goes on to its 22nd season, starting from end of February.
And, more importantly, Singapore continues to nurture world-class referees for many more years to come and be the perfect football ambassadors.
The bottom line: They take referee education seriously as a key pre-season priority.
- Suresh Nair is a Singapore-based journalist, with three-decades experience. He is also a referee instructor and continues to assess the men-in-black in the S-League.