Despite persistently enhanced professionalism in football refereeing, which is widely considered as needed to keep pace with the development football itself as a game is featuring, Switzerland's football federation is obviously failing in terms of that.
At the start of October 2012, four out of twelve Swiss top referees (Damien Carrel/30, Ludovic Gremaud/32, Cyril Zimmermann/36 and Daniel Wermelinger/41) announced their retirement at the end of year due to a defective support they encounter by their federation, an amateurish level of professionalism and a lack of respect shown to the referees by diverse sides.
|Switzerland have lost a great referee hope: Damien Carrel (c) RTS|
In addition, the above mentioned officials have found themselves unable to combine their personal life including family and full-time jobs in high positions both in the industry and in the economy with a high degree of professionalism as a referee. A few weeks ago, Swedish official Markus Strömbergsson withdrew his FIFA status for this reason, too. Damien Carrel, who was regarded by Swiss referee committee chief Carlo Bertolini to become the next international top referee for Switzerland, stated in an interview to blick.ch that there was a huge "lack of respect for their work", although he emphasized that he did not merely concern fans and media, but the Swiss referee pool and specially the Swiss football federation SFV as well: "Three weeks ago, a clear penalty was overseen in a match. And what did the referee do? He told the media that it had been a big mistake by his assistant. [...] The tendency of publicly looking for other culprits is alarming." [remark: he concerned the match between Young Boys Bern and FC Basel of which Stephan Studer had been in charge and later highlighted a communication error caused by his assistant Sandro Pozzi as the only reason for the clearly missed penalty]
Besides, Cyril Zimmermann stressed the need "to facilitate more means to relieve the difficulties full-time employees have to cope with".
While this specific criticism issued by current and coming FIFA officials certainly cannot be generalized to all the countries, it however seems to be a widely spread issue referees are facing.
Dutch Referee Blog and World of Football Refereeing spoke exclusively to Urs Meier, former Swiss top referee having, among others, joined two World Cups (1998/2002) and two European Championships (2000/2004) and taken charge of 2001/02 UEFA Champions League final between Leverkusen and Real Madrid. He had moreover headed the Swiss referee committee for a while before he retired for quite similar reasons. It is the second time I had the chance to get an interview of this top referee, you can find the first one here (on German).
DRB/WoFR: Mr Meier, what was your first reaction following the announced retirement of four Swiss top officials?
Meier: "I was a bit shocked by the news that four of the twelve Swiss top referees will quit officiating after this season. Especially because two of them are young referees, both from the French part of Switzerland. Damien Carrell, one of them, was even nominated to become a Fifa referee. It's not usual, but they had no time anymore for refereeing.
At the time I was the referee chief - I quit about a year ago - I saw always that same problem with my referees. As referee department we need to get more time for them. The Swiss referee system needs a professional or semi-professional organisation with better training facilities and higher payments for referees, so they could stop working and spend more time in refereeing. The football association has to do something now, otherwise there will be more problems in the future. There are more young refs considering to stop."
"Refereeing nowadays costs more time then before, for example in the period I was an international referee. There are more mandatory trainings, meetings and more appointments because there need to be extra assistants. That means they got less time for business and family. Refereeing takes more and more time, but some just couldn't combine that with a job."
|Urs Meier, an advocate for more professionalism in refereeing (c) ursmeier.ch|
There was some news about a sponsor contract between the Swiss SuperLeague and InfrontRingier for CHF 140.000 million in five years. The refereeing budget is 200.000 francs.
"Football has become so professional. That also needs a change in the way we think about refereeing. But the association doesn't want to. The four referees are not the only who stopped because they feel unappreciated. It's the same with Massimo Busacca. If have not gotten the job at Fifa, he would looked for a job as fulltime referee in another country. Otherwise he would have stopped."
But you made it too as top referee without much financial support from the national FA.
"Becoming top referee and going for it, is of course also a case for the referee himself. But there's a difference: I was independent with my own business. I could spend the whole time on refereeing. All the referees who stopped have a good job. One's a lawyer, another has a good position at a bank. You can't spend more and more time on refereeing, they need to be at work too."
Is this a Swiss problem?
"No, it's also a problem in other countries. The FAs lose a lot of experiences due to lack of respect for referees. In Sweden and England they try to do something for the referees, but Austria is for example the same as Switzerland. But it's not only salary. In Germany referees get more money than in some parts of Europe, but they also need a more professional referee structure. It's not only money which gives a referee the feeling he's a professional. They also need the possibilities to have proper training via internet and on the pitch."
Do countries need to collaborate more?
"They have the same problems and can help each other with creating professional referee structures. But I don't think it's a good idea to get a similar payment system for all countries. There are so many differences in each country, also in level and available money. But one thing is for sure: referees do need more money to be professional."
What if the Swiss FA is going to spend more money to get a professional structure, as you suggested when you were the boss?
"I am always there to help, but I am not going back to the situation when I was the head of refereeing. I'd like to compare the situation with a train that goes up the mountain to reach the top. There are other ways to reach the top, but you need to pick just one. In refereeing I'd choose the route with a professional structure and only go this way."
Thanks a lot for this interview, Mr Meier.