Madness shouldn't be required of referees


The players were more boys than men, not yet 17. But they were furious. Mimicking the ugly behavior of professionals seen on TV, they swarmed around the referee, haranguing him to disallow the goal just scored against them. One player was particularly aggressive, threatening violence. So Nicolas Perron did what any referee should do: He sent him off.

From there, it went from bad to worse.

``He started coming toward me, I could see he wanted to hit me. I started to retreat. Then, I ran,'' Perron recalled in an interview. ``The players followed me. The player I red-carded punched me in the face. I fell to the ground. The players hit me while I was on the ground, kicking me.''

What the heck? This is sport? No matter which level of football you look at _ from amateur games like those Perron oversees in the Paris suburbs, to globally televised high-octane encounters in the English Premier League _ there's a body of evidence to suggest that a person has to be a little mad, a bit of a masochist, to want to officiate in a sport where systematically tearing strips out of referees, verbally and physically, has become a sport in itself.

The career of Mark Clattenburg, one of England's top referees, who oversaw the men's final at the London Olympics, could be derailed if there's any truth to allegations in the British press that he may have called a black Chelsea player, John Obi Mikel, a ``monkey.'' Police are investigating. So is the Football Association. Regardless of the outcome, it's hard not to see the whole affair as yet another example of how refereeing high-stakes, tinderbox match-ups like Chelsea vs. Manchester United _ the game Clattenburg worked last Sunday _ can place intolerable pressures on the officials in black.

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