Blame Fifa's soft approach for linesman's death

BILLY HARRIS
Last updated 05:00 09/12/2012

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OPEN LETTER to Sepp Blatter

Dear Mr Blatter: Your incompetence has astonished us over the years. You've said female players should wear tighter shorts. Gay fans should refrain from sexual activities. Players who suffer racist abuse should shake their tormentor's hand at the end of the game. Match-fixing in Africa wouldn't surprise you, but it would in Italy. John Terry's behaviour would be applauded in Latin countries.

Your inconsistency regarding technology frustrates many. You've let ball manufacturers make "advancements" with the ball, so much so that in their pursuit of the perfect ball, they've given us a Frankenstein creation which lurches about in flight like a drunken bat. You allow match officials to wear headgear to let them communicate during a game. And the grass nowadays is a technological marvel, able to seemingly absorb the Pacific Ocean without becoming flooded. But still no technology to help the long-suffering referees make the right decisions. Better to keep them in the dark, while a billion TV viewers know the truth. The "human factor" must be preserved, you said. Refereeing mistakes give us talking points, you said.

Then you were forced to relent, just as a town is forced to build walls against a rising sea. Frank Lampard scored for England against Germany, the ball bouncing so far over the line that even you and your fellow fat cats in the best seats could see it was a goal. But somehow the match officials missed it. How wonderful for you! Lots of human factor! With all the discussion the non-goal caused - a good thing, remember - why did you change your stance? Why did you say: "Perhaps now it is time to review the use of goal-line technology?" I guess a politician will say anything to stay in power.

Until now, your incompetence has done nothing worse than offend millions of people and cost teams millions of dollars by losing matches they should have won. It hasn't, for example, cost any lives.

Until now. In a football match in the Netherlands, a linesman named Richard Nieuwenhuizen was beaten to death by three youth players, and when you follow the caviar crumbs all the way back to their source, they lead to you, Mr Blatter.

For years, footballers, and almost exclusively footballers, have acted like hooligans toward match officials. Scarcely a game goes by where the referee is not argued with, ridiculed, sworn at, intimidated, or surrounded by a gang of angry players. They occasionally manhandle him, and sometimes punch or kick him. This has been going on for years Mr Blatter, and what have you done about it? At one time, there was to be a "crackdown" on this sort of behaviour. That worked a treat didn't it? And now there's a rule whereby only the captain can approach the referee. Judging by the games I've seen, each team has eight captains.

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You've allowed this to fester, Mr Blatter, bit by bit. You could have stamped it out, either by telling referees they must consistently red card the offenders or they will lose their licence, or by retrospectively punishing the offenders. Either way, the players would quickly learn to behave themselves.

But under your watch, Mr Blatter, football has developed a culture of disrespect, and it's led to the death of Richard Nieuwenhuizen.

You've tried to pass the buck by saying: "Football is a mirror of society and sadly, the same ills that afflict society - in this case violence - also manifest themselves in our game." We're not buying it, Mr Blatter. Football is to blame, and you, as head of football, are responsible.

- Billy Harris is a former All White

- Sunday Star Times

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