Sepp Blatter causes a stir with his views on part-time refereeing, writes Steve Menary
When Sepp Blatter announced that referees at all World Cup finals from 2014 onwards must be full-time, he caused consternation among many ambitious match officials. "Some people say there's not enough money to pay them, but there always seems to be plenty in the professional leagues," said Blatter. This prompted particular concern among Germany's part-time officials. When Blatter recently clarified his position he did not back down, insisting that German football association must "establish a system in which the referees are its employees".
FIFA's rules prohibit referees from being employed directly by leagues, which tend to generate the money for their match fees. In England, which Blatter cited as an example to Germany, a handful of top officials went full-time 11 years ago. The Professional Game Match Officials Board was formed and referees were given a salary of £33,000 plus match fees of £900. There are now 15 full-time referees earning £70,000 annually and two other officials employed part-time, but there are no full-time officials in the Football League.
The English system has been emulated elsewhere. Swedish match officials used money made from Sweden's Euro 2008 qualification to employ five full-time officials, which will eventually be increased to eight. Blatter also cited France as an example. But, contrary to his claim, not all French officials are professional. A spokesman for the French football federation said: "Some of our referees benefit from their employers' willingness to free them. Most have a particular status that enables them to have a part-time job. They can train and prepare in professional conditions, but without a real professional status."
The employment status of referees differs widely from country to country and often depends on individual circumstances. Dutch official Bjorn Kuipers, who is set to referee at Euro 2012, remains part-time as he owns a handful of supermarkets. His peers work for the Dutch football association in other capacities.
Even the 2014 World Cup hosts do not yet have full-time officials. Brazil's tax system does not recognise refereeing as a job. After Blatter's initial comments, Marco Antonio Martins, the president of Brazil's referee association, said: "Our profession does not exist. Even the prostitutes are already recognised as professionals. But we are not. It seems it is in the interests of some people to have the situation this way. Otherwise, who would be in charge of the wages, taxes, labour lawsuits?" According to Martins, the Brazilian confederation asks referees for proof of other employment. In neighbouring Argentina, referees are recognised, but only a handful of officials are full-time.
Another obstacle to Blatter's ostensibly laudable plan is political rivalry. Peter Mikkelsen and Kim Milton Nielsen were among the world's leading referees in the 1990s but could not attend the same World Cup finals as both were Danish and no country is allowed to be represented by more than one referee.
The appointment of Seychelles' official Eddy Maillet as one of only four African referees at the last World Cup was linked by some critics to the rise through FIFA's ranks of ambitious Seychelles football federation president Suketu Patel. Maillet explained his appointment by saying: "I work full-time at the Seychelles football federation as a referee co-ordinator, which gives me time to train and keep up to date with the changes in the laws of the game." Maillet's case highlights the problem of getting big-match experience for officials from small countries. Alain Hamer of Luxembourg went abroad to gain experience of high-profiles games. He refereed matches in Belgium and France, but that will surely be more problematic for Tonga's Tevita Makasini, a linesman at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and one of six part-time officials sent from Oceania.
Surprisingly, none of the 24 Asian officials in South Africa came from Australia, home to the professional A-League. Australia quit the Oceania region for Asia in 2006. The presence of two referees from New Zealand, Michael Hester and Peter Leary, regular officiators in the A-League, must have been bitterly ironic for Australian officials.
"You could have a list of the top 24 referees in the world but they will not be at a World Cup," admitted George Cumming, a leading Scottish referee in charge of match officials at the 2002 World Cup. "I support Blatter in principle but it's about the definition. Given the political demands of confederations, it could be professional in their approach but not full-time in terms of finance."
From WSC 303 May 2012