As the governing body of world football, the F.I.F.A. (I’m simply going to call it ‘FIFA’ from here out.) does have some say in how the sport is governed in all the member-countries. But apart from supervising how tournaments are run, trying to ensure that only eligible players enter world competitions, and making sure that the money keeps on rolling in, FIFA doesn’t interfere too much in the internal affairs of its member associations. (You can imagine the complications if an outfit in Zurich tried to tell some red-blooded administrator in Nebraska or Mississippi how best to run the sport!)
But on one thing, FIFA is very clear. Each country must have a functioning Referees’ Committee, whose members should represent all the various football organizations that use referees: men’s, women’s, amateurs and professionals. That committee of representatives must deliberate about all aspects of refereeing: training, education, appointments, selection to tournaments, selection to the international panel, and so on. So let’s take a look at how the Referees’ Committee in the U.S. is doing, and see how much time and effort it spends taking care of essential business and our interests.
The committee meets twice a year, on a weekend. Yes, that’s ON a weekend, not FOR a weekend. Just a few weeks ago, all the members flew in to Chicago on Friday, started their meeting decently on time between 8 and 9, stopped of course for a lunch-break and then wound up their business at about 3. If you flew in from Seattle for this great event, you would have spent more time on the bloody plane than you would have spent in the meeting, taking care of OUR business.
Oh! I can hear the meeting planners now. Well, they say, if you plan ahead, if you strategize your agenda, you don’t actually NEED a lot of time face-to-face. Most of the big decisions will have been discussed over the phone or by e-mail, in which all the important information will have been disseminated to the members. Following well-informed discussions over a period of weeks or months, the actual votes at the meeting are mere formalities. Formalities indeed…
Let me back-track a few years, to the time when I was a member of the Referees’ Committee for the United States Soccer Federation. We had representatives (decision-makers) of all the affiliates, and to run the day-to-day business in the office, we had professional staff. I remember at one meeting I asked for an adjournment to talk to the Chairman (Jack McCabe) to point out to him that one of the staff was taking far too great a role in deliberations of the committee. She was there only to provide essential information, but was trying to become involved in making policy. Jack put a stop to that, reminding her privately that she was there to IMPLEMENT policy, not MAKE it.
Fast forward to 2005. The Referees Committee members, I am told by several of them, do not see an agenda until the day of the meeting, and they do not make significant decisions during the meeting. (Well, that’s not strictly fair. This time they did decide to have only ONE badge for all ranks of Emeritus Referee. And just what are they going to do with Official Sports if Adidas becomes an official sponsor? Heady stuff…)
Back to our committee, YOUR committee, representing YOU, the referees, instructors, assessors and administrators. It is for all practical purposes, run by employees of the federation, not by representatives of the constituents. For want of a better name, we can call them the “Powerful Pentad”: Julie Ilacqua is a paid manager, as is Alfred Kleinaitis. Esse Baharmast is a paid consultant, Joe Machnik is an employee of MLS, and Paul Tamberino is paid to assign the professional and developmental officials. Dave McKee, the titular Chairman, is powerless.
Does this matter? Surely as long as everything is being run well and openly, who cares who makes the decisions? All the employees are capable professionals, aren’t they?
By all accounts, Julie is a capable business manager; Alfred an instructor with twenty years experience; Tambo the referee of the year in MLS several times; Esse a very successful FIFA Referee, the first American to referee two games in the World Cup finals. So what’s the problem?
It’s simply this. If things go wrong, you and all the other referees have no pathway to reform, no way to change things. The Powerful Pentad owes its allegiance to its employers, not to the rank and file in the referee world. And since the reports about the splendor and efficiency of the referee program are written by the staff, not the rank and file, no one in a position of authority over the ones who run the program hears the truth about its effectiveness.
The instruction program is busy, but dull, repetitive and unimaginative, not to mention ineffective. How can a referee reach a PDL without knowing what to do if the field is not marked correctly? How can fourth officials reach those leagues without knowing the duties of the position? There is clearly no appropriate training being given to referees, ARs and fourth who aspire to the higher levels of the game. The so-called "Pro Clinic" is a rehash of old, familiar stuff, with nothing "pro" about it. We'll have more comments on this clinic, and many suggestions to improve it.
The assessment program is ineffective, if we are to judge by the quality of many, many referees reaching the PDL and MLS. And the administrative side has been a source of amusement, delays and complaints for years. Yes, we have more than 110,00 referees, but surely someone has access to professional administrative procedures to get the registrations done in a timely fashion. We’ll have more to say about the failures of instruction and assessment in future articles, and we’ll have suggestions for improvement of those two functions.
No, our referee committee is not allowed to function as one—“a body of persons appointed for a special function by, and usually out of, a larger body”—and until it does, and the Powerful Pentad releases some of its grip on referee affairs in the U.S., we are not going to see much improvement.
NOTE: After I wrote this article, and before I posted it here, I learned that Dave McKee had suffered a heart attack while undergoing treatment, and then underwent bypass surgery. He is now recovering at home. Ed and I wish him the best for a speedy and complete recovery.