On December 2, 2012, Richard Nieuwenhuizen, Dutch soccer referee, has died after a group of youth players from SV Nieuw Sloten, whose ages ranged from 15 to 16, allegedly attacked and beaten him to death. The Associated Press reported that Mr. Nieuwenhuizen was “working as a linesman during his son’s youth soccer match.” While the precise cause of Richard’s death was not yet officially disclosed, it was reported on Dutch television that his death had been caused by brain damage sustained during the attack. The AP also reported that the “the players were still in custody and investigations were ongoing” and that the “police would not rule out arresting more suspects. The USA Today later reported that “prosecutors [were] charging three players, two 15-year-olds and a 16-year-old, with manslaughter, assault and public violence for alleged involvement in a vicious attack on Nieuwenhuizen.” The AP reported that the club, Nieuw Sloten, said in a statement on its website that “it has banned the players involved and pulled their team out of the league” and further stated that such “incidents ‘do not belong on a football field.’” We immediately wrote on our Facebook page that we and the entire soccer community were mourning and called on FIFA and all its Member Associations to condemn this senseless act of violence.
Given the grave importance of this matter, we wanted to address the issue of referee assaults in greater depth. Unfortunately, while deadly attacks on soccer referees are thankfully infrequent, referee assaults do happen and, in our opinion, even one is too many. For example, in October 2012, the Santa Barbara Independent reported that a soccer player was arrested and “led off the field in handcuffs after he assaulted the referee at the conclusion of the match.” According to the report, the player “suddenly charged [the referee] and gave him a hard shove … toppling him to the ground.” In another incident in July 2012, the Augusta Chronicle reported that “authorities arrested a Beech Island man in connection with the assault of a soccer referee” and charged him with “a misdemeanor count of battery against a sport official.” According to the eye witness accounts, the referee was attacked by the perpetrator after he called a penalty. The attacker stepped on, kicked and grabbed the referee’s neck and tried to choke him. The paper disclosed that “the referee, who coughed up blood, sought medical attention at a hospital.” Also in July 2012, the Tampa Bay Times detailed yet another assault on the match official. According to the Times, “two soccer players angry over a call … punched the referee Rafael Serrano in the back of the head after Serrano made a call they disagreed with.” Mr. Serrano was described to have “suffered serious injuries to his shoulder … and was taken to a local hospital.”
These are just a few reported accounts of assaults on soccer referees from this year alone! We appeal to all referees, coaches, players, club and league officials to have absolutely zero tolerance policy for any kind of physical violence against match officials. We also want all referees to be fully aware that USSF issued detailed regulations on the subject of referee assaults. You should read and familiarize yourself with these regulations. We described the relevant sections briefly below.
According to the USSF’s definition, assault is “an intentional act of physical violence at or upon a referee.” Under the USSF Policy 531-9 – Misconduct Toward Game Officials, Section 4, the following procedures must be immediately implemented upon a report that a soccer referee was assaulted:
- When any amateur or professional player, coach, manager, club official or game official assaults or abuses a referee, the original jurisdiction to adjudicate the matter shall vest immediately in the responsible Organization Member which is affiliated with the United States Soccer USSF.
- When an allegation of assault is verified by the Organization Member, the person is automatically suspended until the hearing on the assault.
- he Organization Member must hold a hearing within thirty (30) days of the verification by the Member of the abuse or assault or, if applicable, the thirty-day period provided by subsection (3) of this section. If the Member does not adjudicate the matter within that period of time, original jurisdiction shall immediately vest in the Federation’s Appeals Committee to adjudicate the matter, to which the same provisions as to the term of suspension shall apply.
- Failure to hold the initial hearing shall not rescind the automatic suspension.
According to Section 5 of the USSF Policy 531-9, titled Penalties and Suspensions, “the person committing the referee assault must be suspended as follows:
a. For a minor or slight touching of the referee or the referee’s uniform or personal property, at least 3 months from the time of the assault;
b. Except as provided in clause i. or ii., for any other assault, at least 6 months from the time of the assault:
i. For an assault committed by an adult and the referee is 17 years of age or younger, at least 3 years; or
ii. For an assault when serious injuries are inflicted, at least 5 years.”
Importantly too, the regulations state that “an Organization Member adjudicating the matter may not provide a shorter period of suspension but, if circumstances warrant, may provide a longer period of suspension.”
We urge all referees to promptly report all instances of assaults. We cannot tolerate any kind of violence toward game officials and we must make it crystal clear that such behavior is not acceptable. As stated in the USSF August 9, 2006 Memorandum, “under no circumstances can aggressive, unwanted physical contact with officials be tolerated and all instances must be dealt with firmly both by the appropriate action under the Law (red card for violent conduct) and by including all details in the match report.”