The shocking and disturbing news in the last couple of days of the death of a soccer referee in Salt Lake City leaves us all sad, numb and in disbelief
The referee, Ricardo Portillo, 46 died in hospital where he was being treated following the assault on Saturday night last.
A 17-year-old player who punched the referee after he gave him a yellow card was arrested.
A daughter of the late Mr Portillo said she had been told by witnesses that the player hit her father on the side of the head “when he was writing down his notes.”
This is not the first time that a referee has been attacked and killed by thugs masquerading as soccer players.
Only last year we had a similar incident in Holland when a linesman/assistant referee died following a game, except there were three of them.
Richard Niewenhuizen was attacked after officiating at a game in which his son was playing. The 41-year-old was punched and kicked by three youths aged between 15 and 16 years old after the game.
It brings into focus the dangers of refereeing whether in the lower leagues where there is little or no protection, to the senior leagues where security is somewhat tighter.
From a personal point of view I have also been assaulted at a Premier league game in South Africa where I lived and worked for 14 years.
It happened in a quarter final of a cup competition in 1988.
After I had sent off (red carded) a home player, a local supporter ran on the field and punched be behind my right ear. Although I wasn’t seriously injured the experience is, nevertheless, frightening.
Three other experiences I’ve had, just to mention a few, and also in South Africa, are as follows:
- A person rang my office on a Thursday afternoon and told me “you’ll get a bullet in your face if my team doesn’t win on Sunday.”
- arrived at my hotel to referee a relegation game in the premier league only to find a .45 bullet on my bedside table. I don’t know if it was left by the previous occupant or was meant for me, but the message was clear.
- My assistants and I were taken out of a ground in the back of an army personnel carrier after another high profile game in which the home team, who were challenging for the league title at the time, were beaten and I had red carded their captain.
This is not sport. This should not be a life threatening experience. And now another family is grieving because of the actions of some individual who decided to take the law into his own hands.
My questions are as follows:
- Who was in charge of this team for which this thug was playing?
- Where were the security personnel for the match officials?
- Who is responsible for the coaching and development of these players?
- What is their training and coaching regime like that could allow this to happen?
So many questions that need answers and fast before this sort of thuggery becomes an epidemic and spirals out of control.
The end result will be that referees will give up what they enjoy doing and the game will die.
That would be a tragedy, but less tragic than the situation that now exists. A wife has been left without her husband. A family without their father.
RIP Mr Portillo. May God look after you.
About the author: Dr Errol Sweeney (PhD) BBA Dip.PM, aka “The Hanging Judge,” is a former L.o.I and SA Premier League Referee, World Cup Referee & Assistant Referee Coach & Mentor. He coached/mentored a referee to 2 World Cups, Olympic Games, Confederations Cup, 2 U/17 FIFA World Cups and 4 African Nations Cups. He also writes on his own blog at SuperSport.