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Why Lionel Messi's suspension is groundbreaking

Tuesday 28th March 2017
Lionel Messi has been suspended for four games due to saying 'insulting words' to an official. Here is why the punishment could be groundbreaking.
It is infuriating when football pundits, analysts and writers like me compare the faults of the game to the virtues of other sports. The positive aspects of one game do not pertain to others. Every sport has its own negatives, its own problems that must be solved, that are tailor made for that very sport. And yet, that is exactly what I am about to do in this piece. So, please excuse my hypocrisy as I proceed to detail what I see as the biggest shortcoming in the modern game.

Referees are an under-protected, over-vilified, exposed and lambasted, integral aspect of football. Very much like a necessary evil - though it is hardly fair to label a referee as evil, however accurate that may be to the most vociferous of fan who has just suffered the consequences of watching his team concede a last-minute penalty thanks to an unwise decision - referee's are, like it or not, needed.

They are, despite the many mistakes that they may make, worthy of respect. The suggestion that respect should be earned, not given, is simply distasteful. As a basic right of humanity, respect should be given to all as a foundation of relationships - though it must be stated that it can be lost. In football, they are most certainly not given this human trait. It's time to implement some changes.

Contrast that to the world of rugby. The referee's, while they may still make boneheaded decisions, are listened to, understood, revered and obeyed. Perhaps the greatest piece of evidence indicating this differing shift in treatment is the very fact that referees are mic'd up. In watching a rugby game on TV, you are given a unique insight into the instructions that the referee gives the players, the conversation that they have and the subsequent actions of the players based on what they are told.

There is one very simple and sad reason why that cannot be instigated in football: respect, or the lack thereof.

If a referee was to a have a mic on his shirt, then the disdain, the insults, the swearing, the arguing, the offense, the abuse and the aggression would be proclaimed for all the world to hear. And that is why the recent decision to hand Lionel Messi a four-match suspension for such behaviour is so significant and ground-shaking.

The ban was handed to him just five hours before Argentina's crucial World Cup qualification trip to La Paz, where they faced a fully rested Bolivia side at altitude, in a must-win tie. It is based on his directing 'insulting words' at the officials during his country's crucial 1-0 win over Chile on Thursday, a win that was thanks to Messi himself, who converted a 16th-minute spot kick after Angel Di Maria was clumsily felled in the penalty area. Messi was also fined £18,000 for his troubles, a petty figure for a man of his immeasurable wealth.

However, reprimanding a man of his standing within the game should not be an understated move from the governing bodies of football. The FA have attempted to instigate a respect campaign on domestic shores, as have UEFA in European competitions and FIFA in international affairs.

But thanks to the ingrained belief that the referee is there to hinder, and not help, that he is an obstacle to overcome, rather than a tool to facilitate, rarely have such campaigns been fruitful. Respect for the referees is an issue that is yet to be ironed out in the modern game. Unlike rugby, football does not have the established recognition of their officials that should be entrenched in its infrastructure.

Hopefully, Messi's suspension is the start of a respect clamp down. It is desperately needed.
Andrew Dowdeswell

A sport obsessed 20 something who just really wants Arsenal to finally win the league. Please Wenger, what the hell happened to you?!


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