Hanging judge: In all things, consider the mental health of referees

2020-03-23 10:57

I was delighted to see that the PSL decided to cancel all of this weekend’s matches because of the Covid-19 coronavirus.

This will bring enormous relief to all concerned, not least the players and especially match officials.

We referees are a hardy bunch. We get our appointment and, without question, carry out our duties to the best of our ability.

That’s not to say that there isn’t the danger that we won’t contract the virus from someone either on the field or in the crowd.

Medical experts tell us that we have to remain at least 2m from the next person. Can you imagine that on a football field? How can you have a football match without players tackling each other? What about when a player has to make a throw-in a short distance from the fans in the front stands?

Read: PSL seeks ways to resume season

Worse still, what about on grounds where there are no stands and spectators stand right on the touchline?

Covid-19 is a serious threat to humanity, and all possible measures must be taken to ensure that all of us are protected and remain healthy. We can and will get through it, but we need the cooperation of the wider sporting community, including sports regulatory bodies.

Everyone must play their part to eliminate this scourge, and the suspension of matches by the PSL is a most definite, positive and commendable step in achieving that goal.

I’ve stated many times that the job of refereeing, if you could call it a job, can be hard, demanding and stressful.

We perform our duties as best as we can with little and sometimes no consideration – by consideration, I mean match fee. In fact, I remember using my match fee to cover petrol expenses, never mind food.

I know of many such cases in South Africa, where match officials travel such long distances that the match fee hardly covers their food and petrol for the day.

But in all my years as a referee, I have never felt the kind of pressure that made me want to self-harm or even decide to end my life.

The subject does, however, bring home the real pressure that many match officials are under. Sadly, this is an area of the game that is not receiving enough attention.

Plenty of time and money is spent by football authorities on other aspects of the game, but not much on the psychological wellbeing of match officials.

They are expected to go out for each game and behave like robots without feelings or emotions, yet when they make a mistake, they are pilloried from all sides.

As a psychologist, I have mentored many referees, up to and including World Cup-level officials, and have prepared them physically and psychologically for what has become a highly pressurised job.

Everyone must play their part to eliminate this scourge, and the suspension of matches by the PSL is a most definite, positive and commendable step in achieving that goal.

Pressure can come in many forms; it can be psychological, physical or a combination of both.

It must be said that pressure is not only felt in refereeing – it’s also prevalent among players, who carry the burden of meeting the expectations of not only their fans, but their clubs and coaching staff.

Most big clubs today have sports psychologists in full-time employment, but that’s not the case at the lower divisions.

The mental health of everyone is vital. There are well-documented cases of high-profile referees and players who went on to self-harm and even took their own lives. This has to stop.

The powers that be need to look long and hard to find resolutions to this silent killer among sporting people.

Act today and save the life of a brother, sister, husband, wife, relative or colleague.

Please feel free to make comments or ask questions.

Happy whistling!


.Follow me on Twitter @dr_errol

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March 29 2020