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Culture

The Soccer Referee as an Endangered Spieces

If television rights, insolvency, hooliganism and inflated egos weren't threatening enough; the world of soccer has now identified crazy players and volatile managers as dangers to the future of the game.

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Hanover's Dame Diouf sees red in another outburst of football misbehavior.

They leave Manchester United's Sir Alex Ferguson speechless; AS Roma's Fabio Cappello is talking about leaving Italy because of them and the German Football Association is so concerned they're holding a summit with them on Monday.

Referees have long been the bane of coaches and players alike, with the blame for bad results and decisions left squarely at their door.

The problem is that with the stakes so high, referees are in danger of becoming the scapegoats for a far more serious problem that has slowly and insidiously been creeping into the game over the years - violent and threatening conduct. The behavioral problems that are dogging the game may have deeper roots.

In an attempt to get to the bottom of things, be it problems with refereeing standards, psycho players on the pitch or ranting coaches on the sidelines, the Deutschland Fußball Bund (DFB), the governing football association in Germany, is holding a summit to discuss measures to combat indiscipline.

Anger management may help stamp out indiscipline

DFB President Gerhard Mayer-Vorfelder will meet Volker Roth from the German Referees Association in Berlin on Monday to discuss the possibility of psychological training being introduced into a team's training regime to help cope with the growing problems on and off the pitch.

Gerhard Mayer-Vorfelder

DFB Chief Gerhard Mayer-Vorfelder

The introduction of pre-emptive measures to address root problems before they arise would be accompanied with counseling by experts after incidents for players and coaches who exhibit extreme behavior.

It is hoped that any decisions made regarding the training will be advocated by such respected names in German soccer as Franz Beckenbauer, Rudi Völler and Matthias Sammer and it is hoped these techniques will spread across the continent.

Germany would be a good place to start. A prime example of recent indiscipline would be Saturday's Bundesliga match between Kaiserslautern and Werder Bremen. There were four red cards, two yellow cards and Kaiserslautern coach Eric Gerets was banished to the stands for foul and abusive language aimed at the referee.

But why has the problem become steadily worse? Many see a direct connection between footballer's behavior and their ballooning salaries. "As pay rates have reached rock-'n'-roll levels," says Rogan Taylor, head of the Football Research Unit at the University of Liverpool, "we should be surprised that there isn't more rock-'n'-roll- type behavior."

Speaking in Time Europe earlier this year, Taylor added that in England's Premier League, team managers have been criticized for defending players when they misbehave on the field and that this breeds an aggressive nature that exhibits itself further on the pitch.

According to a BBC Sport poll, the fans believe growing commercialisation is responsible by forcing footballers to try increasingly underhand tactics in pursuit of victory.

Current punishments are failing to curb violent outbursts

Whatever the reason, it is still on the increase. In a statement released in January this year, the British Professional Footballer's Association stated that the rise in violent on-field behavior was at such a level that it was considering fining clubs as well as players in an attempt to stamp out incidents "on and off the field which have been damaging to the image of the game".

On top of the obvious physical misdemeanors committed during a feverish 90 minutes, gamesmanship and play-acting are making referees jobs even harder, with players theatrically attempting to get others punished.

During the 2002 World Cup, Brazilian star Rivaldo fell to the floor clutching his face when a ball kicked at him clearly hit him in the stomach. His team mate Roberto Carlos later confessed to Time Magazine that he had himself faked "many fouls and penalties. To fool referees."

With disciplinary action failing to stamp out this behavior, thoughts are turning to psychological help as an option.

Coaches can be as volatile as players on the pitch

Then there are the managers and coaches. Despite the recently installed 'technical box' which is designed to keep coaching staff restricted to a small area in front of the team bench, managers still berate officials and are regularly shown the red card, having to watch the rest of the game from the stands. Manhandling during and after the game is also an increasing problem with high-pressure coaches aiming their frustration at referees.

The aim of the summit in Berlin is to find ways to reduce the risk of explosive behavior in football. By addressing the problem areas on a psychological level, maybe everyone involved in the game can get back to doing what they do best - kicking the ball, not each other.

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