How much respect does the RESPECT campaign have?

By Charlotte Duncker

As the Premier League set to embark on a new campaign to crackdown on unacceptable behavior towards referees has the RESPECT campaign gone too far?

Sir Alex Ferguson is currently serving a touchline ban following comments he made about referee Martin Atkinson after Manchester United’s 2-1 defeat to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on March 1st.

The original controversial comment he made was: “You want a fair referee- or a strong referee, anyway – and we didn’t get that.”

Ferguson was accused of undermining the FA’s RESPECT campaign and consequently given a five match ban and a £30,000 fine.

The FA’s RESPECT campaign focuses on showing respect to the referee and the match officials.

And last week Chief Executive of the Premier League, Richard Scudamore, announced ideas for the development of a new RESPECT campaign.

He said: “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 behavior.”

He stated that the Premier League clubs had unanimously backed the idea which is due to be enforced at the start of next season.

“We are at a point in the game where we have to rein back some of this undue criticism of match officials,” he added.

Although referees do need to be protected to an extent, campaigns such as these risk taking away the freedom of free speech from managers and players.

Managers are criticized for their team selections and players are judged continually on their performances by the media and their managers, yet critical comments on referees are deemed to be unacceptable.

Ferguson even told the media: “It’s the only industry where you can’t tell the truth.”

Scudamore has said: “We want to raise the bar, we want to improve behavior.”

If behavior is to be improved across the game with managers and players showing the referee more respect then perhaps the level of refereeing decisions across the board needs to be more consistent.

Sometimes it comes as no surprise that a manager launches into a tirade about a referee when a camera is shoved in his face twenty minutes after the end of a match where they feel they have lost because they were cheated out of the game by a referee.

While it is easy to see why criticism should never hit a personal level, should referees be beyond criticism altogether?

Manager of FC United of Manchester, Karl Marginson, believes that criticism of referees should be allowed providing it isn’t personal.

Speaking about the RESPECT campaign he said: “I think it’s gone too far but as managers we do have a duty to look after the game. I think comments should be kept in house after the game and you should speak directly to the referee and tell him what you think.

“We are all human beings. Everybody makes mistakes. The problem is that the referees have got to be big enough to own up to their mistakes. And for some reason they don’t. They are just hiding behind the FA.”

The problem with all of these rules is that they are not consistent across the board. The new campaign by the Premier League is going to be another set of rules for managers and players to abide by and will provide more reasons to dish out fines and bans.

The problem that could emerge from this is that the fans end up being affected.

As has been seen with the Ferguson case, he refused to talk to the media. Is it any wonder that managers are refusing to speak since when they give their opinion they get handed a ban?

But as a paying fan you want to hear what the manager has got to say about the last match.

Steven Winter a Manchester United fan from Salford said: “I can understand why they brought these Respect campaigns in but it’s just getting ridiculous. You can’t say anything without getting a ban.

“I was really disappointed that Fergie enforced a media blackout after the Liverpool game. I understand why he did it but it doesn’t get away from the fact that I pay to watch my team and want to hear from the manager, especially after losing such a big game.”

Karl Margison can totally understand why managers don’t talk to the press but doesn’t think that he would follow suit.

He said: “I don’t think I would ever not talk to the press. It’s vitally important that we talk to communicate with the fans because the fans are what football is all about. If they want to ban me for what I say then that’s up to them but I wouldn’t not speak to the media.”

Manchester City fan, David Barber, said: “I can understand why Fergie didn’t speak after he got his ban and if Mancini is going to get banned for making a small comment about the referee then I would rather he didn’t speak to the media either.”

Referees do not deserve the majority of the abuse that they get from the thousands of fans that shout at them every weekend and without them there would be no football but surely you can still respect someone and hold an opinion about them?

Mr Barber said:  “This whole issue of respect has gone too far. Sometimes referees appear to be adamant to be the main focus of a game and how can you respect that?

“They get too much protection by the FA and with this new Premier League campaign it’s just adding a load more unnecessary rules.”

Rules are obviously an intrinsic part to the game but are the FA and Premier League just taking it a step too far and punishing managers and players for small offences?

Many of the problems surrounding these campaigns are that the boundaries remain unclear and the enforcement of them is inconsistent. Some feel the current RESPECT campaign is in tatters because the ruling isn’t consistent and people don’t know where they stand. Either way, these issues need addressing sooner rather than later, or the Premier League’s respect campaign could head in the same direction.

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