PtG Article 23.12.2005

Zen-Ruffinen applauds new rules to protect football referees

Attempts to apply pressure on football referees are so rife that it has been necessary for football organisations to appoint neutral inspectors to travel with referees.

Michel Zen-Ruffinen, former Secretary-General of FIFA, is still an international football referee and in his closing speech at Play the Game 2005 he told stories from the trenches of football corruption.

Two weeks before attending Play the Game, he was an assistant in a referee's trio at a UEFA cup match in a city the name of which he would not disclose.

“On the morning of the match we were brought by the manager of the club to the main department store in the city. It was ten in the morning, and the manager of the club asked the manager of the store to come and welcome us. He then told him that "Sir, these gentlemen are here for a short stay in our wonderful city. It is 10 am, I will meet them back here at 1 pm and all what they buy in the meantime will be paid by the club."

“This might be funny to hear when you are a Swiss referee who have all that you want to have in your own country. But imagine the same sentence and the same promise made to a referee from say Uzbekistan in the period when they had almost nothing to eat in that country. And you can easily imagine the consequences of that kind of small corruption if the members of the referee trio go to every single department of the department store and come back four hours later with all they have found in the meantime,” said Michel Zen-Ruffinen.

Other referees have been subjected to even stronger pressure according to Zen-Ruffinen.

“A colleague of mine was in another city in a country where we speak French and he found on his bed a hi-fi Pioneer system to the value of 2,500 dollars, and three girls - allegedly interpreters - were waiting in the reception for them.”

Zen-Ruffinen therefore welcomes the new rules about neutral inspectors who travel with referees to prevent undue pressure being applied to them.

To him it is an example of the good that sports organisations can do to prevent corruption. The problem lies with the administrators of sport who are not equally good at agreeing to new rules which mean they could lose some of their own privileges or positions.

“When it comes to that there is silent radio,” he said and called on the public to be more vigilant and act as prosecutors on behalf of sport.

Read the full text of Michel Zen-Ruffinen's speech on Roadmap to better governance in sport