(A GNA Feature by William Ezah)
Accra, Feb. 4, GNA - The recent bashing of referee Joseph Odartey Lamptey after the controversial Heart of Lions/Kotoko game in the Coca Cola Top Four Tournament, brings to mind the question of "Who speaks for the Ghanaian referee?"
One can easily describe the Ghanaian referee as a sheep heading for the slaughterhouse in time of trouble as the case of referee Lamptey has been.
With the exception of Referee Wellington and an outspoken football administrator, who came out boldly to defend referee Lamptey's 87th minute penalty against Kotoko in the match, the poor referee was left to his fate as he received all forms of bashing from every corner of the nation and not even the Referees Association of Ghana (RAG) came to his aid.
Referees, as important as they are, can also falter on some occasions because they are human beings but we cannot do away with them since they have played important roles in the development of the game in the past.
Elsewhere in Europe, referees are given the opportunity to defend their decisions especially after controversial matches whilst the Referees Appointment Committee also plays a significant role in the defence of the referee when it matters.
In Ghana it is a different case altogether as referees suffer worse forms of attacks in times of trouble. This even becomes more serious when the decision is against any of the two big clubs.
It is sad that on most occasions, blames are usually put at the door- steps of the referee, whilst the proper culprits are left free.
Fans, who go to the stadium drunk and become infuriated by the slightest mistake on the part of the referee and commit all forms of crimes, are left unscathed, whilst the referee will never know peace after the said controversial game.
A typical case is that of the May 9, tragedy when the referee was partly blamed for the cause of the disaster, whilst the fans who caused the trouble were no where to be found, even though it is not written anywhere that soccer fans can take the law into their own hands when they are not satisfied with a referee's decision.
It is in the light of this that the only mother of referees in the country; the Referees Association of Ghana (RAG) must be become proactive in the management of the welfare of their colleagues. One wonders what the association has been doing in the past years to protect the image of the Ghanaian referee who has suffered from media and public bashing all these years.
The executive body of RAG must sit up in defence of their colleagues, for it is surprising that in spite of the many noises being made as to whether the penalty was right or not, there was not a single comment from the body in defence of their colleague.
One wonders whether the referees have a mother body because the L.O. Laryea led RAG has remained dumb for so long and it's time for its members to voice out their sentiments.
It is indeed glaring that the hour to undertake a massive reorganisation in the affairs of the association to be able to cater for the needs of modern day football has come.
It is alarming to hear that in this era of growing democracy, people are allowed unlimited tenure of office as in the case of the constitution of the RAG.
The current leadership of RAG must change to allow in fresh ideas to tackle the numerous problems confronting the referee since the present leadership seems to have run out off ideas.
As the referees go to congress later in the year, it is up to them to critically examine themselves and select leaders who can get up and fight for them at any time, especially during periods that their credibility and image are at stake.
The RAG needs a leadership, which is capable of creating effective Public Relations Machinery to take care the series of attacks that are made against referees after matches. This unit should be able to educate the public, defend the interpretations of the rules by referees, explain decisions of their colleagues and render apology where necessary to promote the image of the knights of the whistle.
By this, referees will gradually pick up a positive image in the face of the public, to reduce unwarranted public and media attacks. The RAG has also not been effective in educating the public on the rules of the game hence there have been different interpretations of the rules of the game by the public and the media.
It is imperative that the association teams up with the GFA to organise frequent educational programmes to educate the media and the public so as to reduce growing rate of bashing of referees at the hands of soccer fans.
I sincerely hold the view that the media has exhibited a high level of unfairness to the Knights of the Whistle since most of the criticisms are sometimes influenced by their passions.
Based on the above, one can say the media has a role to play in shaping the image of the referee but without the backing of the RAG, nothing fruitful will come out of it.
This is the time for Ghanaian referees to rise up and defend their vocation and not allow themselves to be bullied by people whose analyses are fringed with bias and fanatical machination.