Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore has announced a new campaign targeting “unacceptable” behaviour by players and managers towards referees. The initiative will come into play at the start of next season and comes in the wake of Sir Alex Ferguson’s five-match touchline ban for an outburst at referee Martin Atkinson following Manchester United’s defeat to Chelsea.
“We do need to concentrate on the player and manager relationship with the referee this time, as every one of us knows that there have been elements of unacceptable behaviour. The surrounding of referees is unacceptable; the goading of referees into trying to get opponents sanctioned we think is unacceptable; and also the undue criticism, where it spills over into questioning the referee’s integrity or his honesty is also unacceptable.”
The Premier League has said it will consult other bodies such as the League Managers’ Association, Professional Footballers’ Association, and the FA which has its own Respect Campaign. The PGMO, which represents match officials, will also be consulted.
Scudamore said that he did not always expect perfect behaviour from players and managers, but that they must understand the responsibilities that come with being perceived as idols by millions.
“Footballers enjoy a privileged lives,” said Scudamore. “The contrast between what is happening in their world and what is happening in the rest of Britain, and indeed most of the world, is getting starker. Whether it is realistic or not they can’t entirely be perfect role models, they are young males and boys can behave badly from time to time.
“But there is a point where extra responsibility comes with the territory. There are so many good things about what footballers do, so this is not us demonising them, but the mood is that things could improve.”
The Premier League does not speak without the say-so of its clubs and it’s reasonable to assume that this initiative has the backing of a majority of, if not all, top-flight chairmen. The Premier League also points out that, despite occasional high-profile incidents, player behaviour has improved with bookings for dissent dropping by 20% in each of the past two seasons.
“I think most supporters would welcome this initiative and say it’s long overdue,” said Jon Keen, deputy chair of the Football Supporters’ Federation. “We hope that the Premier League is serious enough about this to make it work, and have the courage to stand up to those who think that they can act however they like.
“Some fans will be sceptical since similar initiatives in the past have failed, but I wish the Premier League every success with this – the game will feel the benefit if it succeeds. No-one wants to see players arguing with referees, trying to get opponents sent off, or managers behaving as if they’re bigger than the game. Excessive, unacceptable behaviour only reinforces the stereotypes that many fans have of overpaid, spoilt, and petulant, players and managers.
“It’s also clear to everyone involved in grassroots football that what is shown on Match of the Day on a Saturday night reappears the following morning in kids’ and park matches across the country. Many have said that the biggest problem with the FA’s respect campaign is that it doesn’t focus on bad behaviour at the top of the game so hopefully this will plug that gap.”
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