Uefa fights back on yellow cards

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The players and not the referees are to blame for the spate of red and yellow cards in the early stages of Euro 96, according to the president of Uefa, the game's European governing body. Lennart Johansson has reacted swiftly to criticism of his officials for being too strict by levying fines on six teams for poor discipline in their opening matches.

Johansson has written to all 16 countries taking part, reminding them of the fair-play initiative after 30 yellow cards and two reds were issued in the first four games. He also handed out fines totalling pounds 17,000 to the six countries who accumulated four or more cautions.

"Players should not only content themselves with wearing the Fair Play logo, but are expected to display fair play in their conduct," he wrote. He added that the referees would continue to be firm in carrying out their duty. "They have also been asked to act against delaying tactics employed by players, such as carrying or kicking the ball away after the whistle of the referee," he said.

Criticism of the standard of refereeing has been widespread and swift. The German coach, Berti Vogts, was unhappy with the six cautions for his players by the English referee David Elleray in Sunday's game against the Czech Republic. "I would have expected an English referee, who is not alien to the physical type of game, to be more lenient," he said. "If you looked at the England-Switzerland game, there was a much more lenient referee."

Terry Venables' side picked up only two yellow cards to Switzerland's four in Saturday's opening game, leaving them equal with Denmark in the fair-play stakes.

On Sunday, Spain and Portugal both dented their records by having a man sent off; Spanish striker Juan Pizzi and Bulgarian defender Petar Hubchev both received a one-match suspension yesterday. After the game, the Bulgarian striker Hristo Stoichkov criticised the Italian referee, accusing him of being the person on the pitch to have made the most violations.

Prior to the 1994 World Cup, Fifa, the world governing body, gave directives to referees which were intended to lead to fairer and more fluid games. Among the major recommendations were a clampdown on the tackle from behind and the harsher penalising of offences in the penalty area.

The implementation of the directives caused some argument, but was also credited for achieving its objectives. In 52 games, there were an average of 2.71 goals per game against 4.37 yellow cards and 0.29 red cards per game. Fifa also claimed that they had almost eradicated violent play.

A Uefa spokeswoman said yesterday: "The refereeing guidelines for Euro 96 are not new. They're the same as for World Cup in 1994." She added the intention of guidelines for referees was to ensure fair play.

It is still early days for Euro 96. The average of two goals per game against 7.5 yellow cards and 0.5 reds is probably best judged in another week or so. But if the average remains the same, the referees may need calculators as well as glasses.