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World Cup: FIFA had no choice over ‘nightmare’ Saudi referee move, says official

World Cup: FIFA had no choice over ‘nightmare’ Saudi referee move, says official

LONDON: Harsh but correct — that is the viewpoint from the high levels of Asian refereeing after two Saudi Arabian assistant referees had their dreams of going to the World Cup dashed by FIFA.
Referee Fahad Al-Mirdasi was due to head a three-man team to Russia but has been banned for life by the Saudi Arabia Football Federation (SAFF) for offering to take a bribe ahead of the this year’s King’s Cup final on May 12.
FIFA announced on Wednesday that not only was the disgraced Al-Mirdasi out of Russia, but assistants Mohammed Al-Abakry and Abdulah Al-Shalawi would also have to stay home.
“This decision is a nightmare for me,” Al-Shalawi, who received an email from the world governing body and subsequently resigned as a referee, told Saudi television. “I been working to go to the World Cup for 16 years but now it is over.”
A leading Asian referee told Arab News that the FIFA Referees’ Committee had made the right call.
“Referees are appointed as groups,” said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“For example, if a referee fails a fitness test, then the whole refereeing team is replaced by another. I know this may seem harsh on the other match officials, but as a group of three officials we need to take responsibility for each others’ actions.”
While the decision is terrible for the two assistants, neither of whom were accused of wrongdoing, the referee said FIFA were left with no other alternative.
“What needs to be realized is that when you are chosen to be a referee at any international event, you are not only representing your confederation but also your country as well,” added the official. “Because of this fact, I agree with FIFA to ban the entire refereeing group from Saudi Arabia.”
The one thing every fan and player knows only too well is that referees are human, but in this situation an honest mistake could unfortunately be seen as something else.
“If that leads to a team being eliminated — what will everyone think given what has happened in Saudi Arabia? They will think the match was fixed. It is better not to take that risk.”
The omission is good news for other Asian referees who have been called up to step into the breach. Hasan Al-Mahri of the UAE and Japan’s Hiroshi Yamauchi have been drafted in as emergency replacements.
The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) did not comment when contacted by Arab News but a high-ranking confederation official did add that this episode did not reflect the reality of refereeing standards in Saudi Arabia or Asia as a whole.
“This is an isolated incident,” said the official.
“While we have a presumption of innocence until proven guilty, if the allegations are true then it needs to be underlines that the large majority of referees have flawless integrity. There is always one bad apple in the crop. 99.99 percent of referees would never indulge in match fixing but when these situations do arise, they need to be taken very seriously and there was no other way.”

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