Referees on whistle-stop tours as ISL and I-League run together
Kolkata :Holding the Indian Super League (ISL) and the I-League together has had Indian referees virtually living on jet planes. This has meant increased opportunity and fatter paycheques but also the risk of running some of them to the ground.
Consider this: Tejas Nagvenkar did four games between December 22 and January 10, two in each league. That meant Nagvenkar, one of the six Indians with a Fifa badge, was in Chennai on December 22, in Kolkata one week later, travelled to Bangalore for the ISL game between Bangalore FC and ATK on January 7 and was in New Delhi three days later to supervise the match between Delhi Dynamos and Kerala Blasters.
A Rowan, another Fifa badge holder, did the NorthEast United-ATK game in Guwahati on January 12 and was with the whistle in New Delhi on January 14 for the match between Delhi Dynamos and Bengaluru FC.
Those games came after Rowan did one in Jamshedpur on January 5. That meant three games in nine days made worse by the fact that there is no airport in Jamshedpur. So, an additional three-hour road trip to Ranchi or an almost five-hour train ride to Kolkata must be added to every visit.
Pratik Mondal did two I-League games in four days last December. For that, he travelled from Kozhikode to Aizawl. That’s 2264km by air usually spread over three flights and layovers. Then there is R Gupta, who did ISL games in Kochi and Kolkata on January 21 and 25.
“There is no rule but conventionally a seven-day gap between games is provided for referees if travel is involved,” said Milan Dutta, formerly head of the referees’ unit of the All India Football Federation (AIFF) and a former member of the referees’ committee of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).
“While established referees have teams breathing easier, you do have to address the issue of fixture pile-up,” said Dutta who has supervised World Cup and Olympic qualifiers and Asian Cup games.
Workload or not, some refereeing decisions have got coaches in the ISL hot under the collar. FC Pune City’s Ranko Popovic was given a four-match touchline ban and fined Rs 5 lakh for ripping into Rowan’s handling of the game against FC Goa on December 23.
“Who was the referee (Rowan) protecting? Are there different rules for Pune City?” Popovic had said.
Chennaiyin FC’s John Gregory was banned for three games for public display of anger at referee Ranjit Bakshi’s handling of their away game to Jamshedpur FC on December 28.
“Referees’ assignments have been a massive challenge this time. Initially, the referees too were worried and, yes, there have been teething problems but I think, by and large, their supervision has exceeded expectations. Look at the two Kolkata derbies that went off without incident,” Gautam Kar, Director Referees, AIFF, said over the phone from New Delhi.