The Besart Berisha suspension after last week’s A-League football game opens a huge can of worms, the way I see it.
If Berisha gets a two-week suspension for pushing a match official in the A League, how come a seventeen-year-old girl gets a twelve-month suspension for unsporting conduct toward an official in a regional third division game.
According to the soccer boffins, who I assume know the rules, a “normal” four-week suspension was reduced to a two-week suspension, in “Bes’s” case, with a further two-weeks held-over for the rest of the season. Apparently Berisha’s contrition, plus the fact that he voluntarily attended the disciplinary hearing and he had some good character references won him mercy from the panel.
The facts of the Berisha matter are that the Melbourne star striker committed a dodgy tackle on an opponent and when the opponent’s team-mates arced up, an assistant ref took it upon himself to escort Berisha away from the scuffle to reduce the tension. The official placed his arm around Berisha and pushed him away from opposition players. Berisha put up with the childish man-handing for a few seconds, then turned and pushed the official’s arm away.
Firstly, the official should not have touched the player. Being a match official does not give you the right to touch anyone. Rule number one in the referee’s training manual should be, respect players and never touch them. If you want respect from players, then show them respect too!
Secondly, Berisha should not have responded by pushing the referee back. If he had said, “get your hands off me, please” it would have been an appropriate response but shoving back is a serious matter. Berisha deserved his two-match suspension. I would have given more. The A League, by treating the matter so lightly, says to players that, under certain circumstances, touching refs is okay. Well it’s not. Berisha should have gotten a longer suspension… and the official should have gotten a few weeks suspension plus some retraining, as well!
Teenager gets twelve months!
Which brings me to what I regard as a much more significant story. Early this season, a seventeen- year-old girl from regional New South Wales received a “mandatory” twelve months suspension for unsporting conduct towards a match official. The girl had numerous character references presented in letter form, the player herself wrote a letter of apology to the referee and she was willing to appear in person at a hearing to speak in her own defence. My understanding is that her presence was not required and that the letters written in her defence were of little consequence because, in matters such as this one, a minimum twelve months suspension is “mandatory.”
Let’s get this out of the way early. The girl’s offense was a shocker and deserved serious consequences. None of her friends, supporters or fellow club members deny this. She lost it and spat in the direction of the referee. The offending projectile may have only landed at the official’s feet but spitting at someone is way out of line under any circumstances and the immediate red card and threat of being hauled up before a disciplinary committee to determine a significant suspension is a spot-on response. However, a “mandatory” suspension against an under-age person without consideration of mitigating circumstances is equally out of line. It’s completely unreasonable!
Firstly, the player in question was, at the time, a seventeen-year-old homeless student. How many homeless teenagers out there are managing to keep themselves in the education system? This was a couch-surfing kid managing to get herself up, out of bed, and off to college every day determined to build a better life for herself despite no home and no money.
Secondly, for all those who might want to say… “well, where are the girls parent?” Well, the girl might say the same thing. At the time of the incident the teenager had no family at all to support, feed, protect and house her. Luckily she did have supportive friends who offered her a bed and food.
Thirdly, the girl, at the time, had health problems.
Need I go further?
It is a damned miracle that this decent young kid was managing to feed herself and get herself to college most days without the support of any family and the fact that she was also playing an important role in a local soccer team was just fantastic for her and for the community. How many teenagers do you know who are getting on with life as successfully as this kid was, despite horrible circumstances.
So, she loses it in a soccer game and with no consideration of circumstances, no appearance in her own defence, an individual who is still legally a child is banned from soccer for twelve months.
Extenuating circumstances not considered!
A brief mention of the circumstances leading to her “losing it” on the pitch does not attempt to justify her behaviour but it does help to make the offense understandable. The girl, a striker, broke free of her last defender then pushed the ball past the goal keeper to score her first ever double in a match. Much to the surprise of the girl, players from both teams, the spectators, and several independent by-standers behind the goal the referee believed the goal-keeper’s claim that there had been a hand ball and so disallowed the goal and gave a free kick to the goalie.
Off-side calls, unfair challenge calls and many other foul calls in the box can generate debate and anger among players but, in the end, those kinds of calls are often line ball and while they might cause players to get pissed off, they aren’t taken personally. Telling a player that they hand-balled to score a goal is different. It’s personal. It’s calling the player a cheat! When the referee gave a free kick to the opposition instead of awarding a goal, then he was agreeing with the goalie that the girl had cheated. Lots of talented players would take the insult on the chin, rant quietly to themselves or maybe even have a bit of a whinge at the ref. This girl, on this occasion, perhaps sick to death of the world unjustifiably taking things away from her that she didn’t deserve to have taken away, lost it and misbehaved towards her accuser!
No-one… least of all the teenager herself… claimed that the behaviour was justified. A red card and a suspension were always going to happen. The referee for the game was no older than the girl in question and, as a volunteer, he has a right to expect that he will not be abused or disrespected. Whether he erred over disallowing the goal or not, his handling of the situation was both reasonable and competent. The problem I have, and the problem that others that know anything about this matter is, that the penalty was “mandatory”. Why were the circumstances such as the girls age, health, personal situation and good character not considered? A twelve month ban but with a percentage of the penalty “held-over” as happened in the Berisha case might have made sense.
What is the purpose of sport?
The fact that an adult professional athlete who is reasonably well paid, has a good home, has a family and has what most would regard as an enviable life receives two weeks for unsporting behaviour and a homeless, powerless, moneyless, parentless child gets a year without any discussion is incomprehensible to me. In Berisha’s case it started with a nasty foul that he was responsible for. In the girl’s case, it started from what she thought should be a very special moment for her… a goal! This kid had never been called for a foul in her playing career. Some may argue that the girl’s offense was way worse. I think that that’s intolerant bullshit!
In a conversation I had with Ange Postecoglou, a while back, he said to me that one thing that really riles him is when someone says or does something that drives kids away from football. I agree with him.
Football isn’t about the Socceroos, or the A-League, or the World Cup, or the Premier League or snotty over-paid professional athletes. Football is about people playing a fun and healthy game that enables them to enrich their lives. Besart Berisha doesn’t really need football. Leo Messi doesn’t really need football. Christiano Renaldo doesn’t really need football either. This young girl, who has been rubbed out of the game, does need football. Football was one of the few positive elements in what was, at the time, a difficult life. She needed football but apparently football did not want her. No questions asked or answered. You’re out kid. We don’t care if you don’t come back.
I think it stinks!
Respect for match officials is one of the most sacred and important elements of organized sport. In my view, a sport’s capacity to be forgiving (especially when it comes to the errors of the young) is just as key an element. Where is the forgiveness here?