All India Football Federation (AIFF) President Kalyan Chaubey has called for an urgent need for accountability on the part of the Referee Department, urging officials to take serious note of the continuous errors and mounting refereeing issues this season in India’s top two leagues, the ISL and the I-League.
Mid-Season Refereeing Review Meeting
The AIFF president's suggestions came while chairing the mid-season ‘Refereeing Review Meeting’ held virtually on Sunday that discussed ways to further elevate the standard of Indian refereeing and take it to the next level.
The meeting, which lasted for over 4 hours was attended by Acting Secretary General M. Satyanarayan; Treasurer Kipa Ajay, Chairman of Competition Anil K. Prabhakaran, Chairman of League Lalnghinglova Hmar, Chairman of State Development Avijit Paul, Chairman of Finance Menla Ethenpa, Chairman of Referee K. Sankar, Chief Referee Officer Trevor Kettle along with assessors, match commissioners and all 12 referees empanelled for ISL.
While asking the Referee Department to be more accountable, the AIFF has also decided to have a meeting with the ISL and I-League club coaches and managers in Bhubaneswar to emphasise ‘Do’s and Don'ts' for the club officials, with CRO Trevor Kettle leading the discussion for collective decisions.
Concerns Over Fair Play
Expressing concern over the mounting referee issues and deprivation of ‘fair play’ due to plain sight errors for participating clubs, Chaubey urged individuals involved in referee regulations, match officials and assessors to uphold ‘natural justice’.
A total of 24 controversial Key Match Incidents (KMI) from seven ISL and four I-League games were presented for discussion. After hearing explanations and analysis from the panel on the decisions of the referees, Chaubey said: “The season has seen increasing concerns over referee decisions with complaints and counter-claims. Clubs have submitted hard evidence in the form of videos to back their claims. Several games have been impacted due to unfortunate ‘plain-sight errors’, and admittedly below the acceptability of standards expected from us.”
The AIFF President emphasised that the federation has made rapid strides in the highly competitive environment, leading to a welcome change of having a 12-month packed football calendar as compared to 7-9 months in the recent past.
AIFF's Investment in Referees' Development
Chaubey acknowledged that with the competitive growth of the sport, AIFF has made equal efforts in the development of referees over the last year.
AIFF has been heavily invested in the referees’ development through the set-up of the Elite Development Referee Programme since January 2023. The Elite Referee Panel has been absorbed into the full-time payrolls of AIFF. In addition, there have been continuous efforts, with theoretical and practical training and refreshment courses being conducted with AIFF in partnership with FIFA, PGMOL and FSDL.
Recently, AIFF has appointed five Zonal Referee Development Officers with teaching knowledge, which will have a far deeper impact on imparting referee courses across the country.
Emotional and Financial Considerations
“As officials and administrators, we have to work towards minimising these mistakes,” emphasised Chaubey, adding, “We can’t hide behind the mask of the ‘acceptable 15% human error norm’. Most of these complaints are of plain sight errors falling under the 15% norm, which hampers the clubs, players and leagues,” he said.
“I urge you all to look at these incidents from the emotional investment of the fans and the financial investment of the clubs. Safeguarding these emotions is the key here, and it will provide our assurance of fairness and consistency in the decisions,” he added.
Chaubey said: “Through the reviews of the videos today, we have a clear case of one club being at the receiving end for refereeing decisions that went against them twice in two games of the 10 played so far. In their argument, that’s 20% of wrong decisions on them, ruining their prospects in the season campaign,” he said.
Call for Understanding Laws of the Game
“While we are for the independence of referee functioning and development, we also have to follow the international examples of rewards and consequences,” he added.
Chaubey also called on fans and club officials to develop a fair understanding of the laws of the game and to avoid undue criticism. “We need to not just educate referees, but also the fans and club officials.
Some of the criticisms are uncalled for due to a lack of understanding of referee regulations. The clubs need to take an active lead in acquiring and imparting such knowledge to their patrons and fans.”
The AIFF President has suggested a follow-up meeting during the Kalinga Super Cup in Bhubaneswar to discuss the way forward on these issues.