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The thankless life of a referee

  • Published at 03:25 pm June 29th, 2016
The thankless life of a referee

At the end of the Copa America final on Monday, the tournament officials who were handing out the medals and trophies hugged a smiling Brazilian referee Heber Lopes. His two red cards in the first half effectively killed off the contest between Argentina and Chile.

The embrace seemed misplaced to someone watching it from Bangladesh, where match officials are treated poorly when they make an error and are hardly ever praised even when they have a good game.

Cricket and hockey umpires and football referees have it bad in Bangladesh. They are not paid well, there is very little respect and at times it becomes a life-threatening exercise. It all equates to very little in job satisfaction.

A bad decision can lead to a silent suspension that is often ignored in the media. During the recently concluded Federation Cup Abahani Limited-Brothers Union quarterfinal, linesman Harun-ur-Rashid allowed a controversial goal that earned him a suspension. He was not seen in any game fro the rest of the tournament. The referee Mizanur Rahman suffered the same fate, in addition to the humiliation while leaving the ground with supporters abusing them non-stop.

During the Dhaka Premier Division Cricket League match between Abahani and Prime Doleshwar Sporting Club, umpries Gazi Sohel and Tanvir Ahmed were at the wrong end of Abahani's wrath after a stumping decision wasn't given. In an unprecedented move, both umpires didn't officiate in the game due to “illness”, such was the pressure on them.

Three seasons ago after Mohammedan had lost a football league game, a group of supporters trying to attack referees through a group of at least 10-12 policemen.

But the life of a referee outside the pitch can be different than the hapless individual we sometimes see in the pitch.

Mohammad Jalal Uddin has been officiating football's Premier League matches and other professional tournaments for nine years. He is doing it for the love of the game and the sense of adventure he gets during the 90 minutes on the pitch. His financial life doesn't depend on his job as a match official.

Apart from officiating in FIFA and AFC matches occasionally in the last two years, Jalal has a full-time job in Dhaka University where he is assistant director in the physical education department. A referee usually gets Tk 2000 for each game which is much less than what Jalal earns from his full-time job.

“I love the game of football. I enjoy refereeing a football match. That is what keeps me going in this job. The more interesting and hard-fought the game, the more I enjoyed it,” said Jalal, at his office in Dhaka University.

Hailing from Chakaria Upazila in Chittagong, Jalal was once a professional footballer. After completing his primary and secondary education in Chittagong, he captained the Dhaka University football team. He also played handball and athletics.

He played as a defensive midfielder and was a key member in the Sheikh Russel team during their rise from Second Division to top-flight football.

After retiring as a player, Jalal did his first referee's course in Chittagong in 2004. He started officiating B-League matches in 2007 since then he has again been a familiar face in domestic football. He is now the general secretary of Bangladesh Football Referee's Association.

Interestingly, Jalal said that he feels no pressure while refereeing in matches involving popular clubs like Mohammedan and Abahani.

Asked if he received any threats during his refereeing career, he replied, “The fans only shouted, sometimes even uses bad language during the game. Things are normal once I leave the venue. They sometimes greet me outside.”

“I don't receive such threats but sometimes club officials called me and requested me to give a kind look at some particular players who had received yellow cards before. I always asked them to teach their players first to be alert, not me.”

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