Muddle in the middle

KEITH BRADFORD -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:21 AM ET

You know there's something wrong with soccer when referees are getting more black ink than players.

But after years of enduring abuse from fans, teams and coaches, the men in the middle are fighting back.

And amid the latest accusations of biased refereeing and even death threats, a new militancy is emerging among their number.

"I'm not going to call a strike today," Volker Roth, chairman of UEFA's referees' committee, said after a meeting with Germany's leading referees yesterday.

"Strikes in public life are legitimate but they are usually used only as a last resort.

"I brought this into the discussion as a way of showing how fed up referees are.

"I hope and I believe that things will work out but I call on everyone involved for reason to return."

Germany's refereeing scandal - in which at least one referee has admitted being involved in match-fixing - has been a catalyst for more vocal criticism of, and skepticism about, referees worldwide.

But the recent retirement of Anders Frisk, one of Europe's top referees, has brought the issue to a head.

Frisk retired after receiving death threats, allegedly from Chelsea fans, following the first leg of the Chelsea-Barcelona game in Spain.

"I felt like the only way I could stop this, the only way to get rid of all the threats, get rid of the constant feeling of worry, was to quit," he told the Expressen newspaper.

Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho had accused Frisk of speaking to Barca boss Frank Rijkaard during the controversial game.

Roth responded by claiming that Mourinho effectively incited the death threats that followed and called Mourinho an "enemy of the game." Now Mourinho is reportedly considering legal action against Roth - and an isolated incident has become a huge political football.

In the meantime, Frisk - who is not the first top ref to receive death threats - has become a hero to referees worldwide.

But no one seems to have grasped the fact that he actually put his colleagues in danger by admitting the threats were behind his retirement. If he wanted to take a stand, he could have blamed criticism from fans or coaches instead.

Sure, punish Mourinho for going too far.

But remember that Frisk has sent a message to every referee-hating fan that the men in the middle are susceptible to such threats. So don't be surprised if they suddenly increase. And referees start walking off the job.

But don't blame Mourinho. Blame Frisk.

GOALIE GOALS: Why should strikers have all the fun? Brazilian Rogerio Ceni's 43 career goals might not set the world on fire. But it's pretty impressive for a goalie.

The 32-year-old got his fourth goal of the year last week with a stunning free kick for Sao Paulo in their 4-2 win over Universidad de Chile. "It was one of the most beautiful goals I've ever scored, there's no doubt about it," he told the Agencia Estado news wire.


Videos

Photos