'Respect' plan aims to end baiting of referees

The incidents that featured Ashley Cole and Javier Mascherano baiting referees last season were described yesterday as "the tipping point" for the Football Assocation's new "Respect" programme that will be rolled out from this weekend.

In what is a concerted bid to clamp down and ultimately remove from the game aggressive behaviour towards referees and their assistants, the occasions featuring Cole and Mascherano were referred to specifically by the Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore.

Chelsea and England full-back Cole turned his back and walked away from Mike Riley during his team's 4-4 draw with Tottenham last March when the referee had asked to speak to him. Four days later, with the Cole incident still resonating loudly, Liverpool's Mascherano was sent off against Manchester United. The Argentine midfielder had complained about a decision to Steve Bennett and continued to harangue the official, who followed up an initial yellow card with a red card.

Lord Triesman, a former referee at semi-professional level and the chairman of the FA said yesterday: "We've reached a tipping point in football [over respect to referees]. There were incidents last year that received lots of attention. There was a breakdown in referees running games last season."

Scudamore said: "The Cole and and Mascherano incidents brought this to our attention in particular. But maybe they have done the game a favour.

"Football engages, motivates and inspires – but at times we know it can get ugly. We all have a responsibility to deal with these excesses and I sense there is a commitment from all quarters of the game – including media – to deal with it."

"Respect" has the backing of the Premier League and all clubs in the country have been introduced to it. It was launched in part due to a haemorrhaging of referees, particularly at grass-roots level. The FA are attempting to recruit officials at a time when it is losing 7,000 referees a year. The aim is now to recruit 8,000 more by the time of the Olympics in London in 2012.

The FA have identified other problems, such as parents being aggressive towards their children when they are playing football. Referees also receive abuse from parents and coaches at this level.

Triesman acknowledged he needed the input of the people at the top of the game to help turn this situation around, and "Respect" will feature initiatives involving players and managers.

"We need the leadership of top players. Their role is absolutely decisive," Triesman said. "They can do fundamental things."

But the FA and Premier League hope that a much-enhanced dialogue and communication between referees, players and, in particular, team captains will improve matters before games begin. The referee will discuss issues before the game with the captain and either the manager or assistant manager, who are now required to hand in the team sheet together.

While no new rules have been implemented on the field of play, referees have been told to face up to possible problems on the pitch and deal with them there and then. Referees have not been told to always show a yellow card for all dissent-related matters, but they should still produce one for direct dissent. They are also under orders to handle the situation with the player concerned and with the captain present. Managers will also have to be more restrained in their technical areas and in their dealings with the fourth official.

Brian Barwick, the FA's chief executive, said he does not expect a perfect world straightaway. The start of the season this weekend will no doubt prove him right but the players cannot say they have not been warned.

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