This is the UFL, Not the UFC

Last Saturday (21 April 2012), a twitter post from UFL Chairman and KAYA FC owner, Santi Araneta, caught my attention. It made a reference to an incident in the UFL match between Kaya FC and Air Force that day. We didn’t get to see that match because my son’s team was playing at the Fleet Marine football tournament on that same day too.

However, based from Mr. Araneta’s tweet he was calling attention about the failure of the referee to punish an Air Force player with a red card for a closed fist punch on a Kaya FC player. He was calling for action to be taken by the disciplinary committee for this incident which was clearly seen on TV and in subsequent replays. He also tweeted about how playing against the armed Forces is more UFC than UFL.

Now this got my attention because a few weeks back I wrote an article for Pinoyfootball about the poor standards of refereeing here, particularly at UFL matches. This incident more or less helps confirm my observations and opinion. This also shows that I am not the only one concerned about the situation and its implications for the game here in the Philippines. Also, you will note in that article that I acknowledge that refereeing errors will always be part and parcel of the game. However, I take particular issue in that article concerning the abilities of our local referees to exert consistency and control with regard to “violent,” undisciplined and unruly behaviour of players.

I will acknowledge that football is a tough game that some teams will play a physical match and resort to rough tactics and acts to intimidate opposing players. However, I feel there is a fine line between playing a “physical” game as opposed to being “violent” and malicious. There are hard tackles, but going in two-footed with studs up is not acceptable. Flying elbows, stamping, knee strikes and punches don’t belong in the game and players who indulge in these don’t belong in the pitch either. It’s the referee’s job and responsibility to make sure that the fine line isn’t being crossed. They need to be in control and they need to show the players they are in control. Rules have to be enforced, players’ safety must be assured and undesirable behaviour must be punished.

There are some players who play in such a manner, so-called enforcers and “hard men,” though in my opinion these are types of players of a bygone age and should no longer have a place in modern football. However, even “clean” players can sometimes get provoked or get caught up in the heat of the moment. This is where the referee plays a crucial role. They have to be able to keep “dirty” players in line or punish them accordingly and make sure the atmosphere of the match does not boil over where everyone feels the need to take some form of action because the referee is not doing anything about it. A bad foul goes un-punished, the opposing team retaliates to even the score as they feel they get no protection from the referee against these underhanded tactics, and so on and so forth. If the referee isn’t on top of the situation, the situation escalates and fans and supporters of both teams get treated to some ugly spectacle and incidents on the pitch.

Photo via uflphilippines.com

I never liked to be negative and prefer to be dwelling on positive aspects of things, but I feel that this aspect of refereeing in the UFL needs to be addressed. This is the UFL, not the UFC. Violent play or actions, and ill disciplined behaviour should not be tolerated.

To go back to last Saturday’s incident, it appears that both players were meted out yellow cards and that it was the second yellow card for the Kaya player hence his getting sent off. However, as far as I know, a closed-fist punch whether it connected or not is a straight red in any league. Let’s say we give the referee the benefit of the doubt and he didn’t see the punch, how about the assistant referees? Now if the match officials didn’t notice or see the punch, I agree with Mr. Araneta’s point of having a disciplinary committee review the action, especially if television footage can help determine the fact. If I’m not mistaken, there are precedents of post-match review of serious infractions committed in a match, especially when it pertains to acts of violence or unruly behaviour. Even if there are no precedents, I think it would be wise for the UFL and football authorities in the Philippines to take effective steps to weed out this unsavoury aspect of the game.

This type of actions, behaviour and mentality has no place in our football community. Let’s look long term and see if such behaviour will benefit our teams and players. Perhaps in a local milieu these so-called “hard” and “physical” tactics, and tough guy personas may work to some extent to rattle opposing teams, however, I doubt if these type of behaviour or attitude will bring any benefits when it’s brought on the international stage.

I for one look to seeing our clubs playing in tournaments around the region (Loyola Meralco Sparks have already been invited to a tournament in Singapore) and having more local-based players play for the national team. Is a “physical” approach to the game going to be helpful against teams with much bigger and stronger players? Is a “hard man” or tough guy attitude going to help, much less intimidate other more seasoned teams and players? It’s probably only going to end up in our player getting a red card and leaving the team short-handed and at a serious disadvantage to finish out the match.   

No, there is no room for these undesirable and dangerous attitudes and actions. We don’t need these in our football. Let’s focus on developing skill and ability in playing proper football and not in martial arts. One area where we can start in reaching this objective is by having better referees and improving refereeing standards. We could add to that proper supervision and oversight by a disciplinary committee that will lay down the standards and guidelines for everyone connected to the league – teams, coaches, players, match officials, etc.

Before I am misunderstood, let me be clear that I’m not saying that the unsavoury aspects of the game will be fully weeded out. I’m realistic enough to know that that level of perfection is unlikely considering that even top leagues in Europe are not without its faults and shortcomings. But at least, there should be a clear and conscious effort from authorities that shows to everyone on and off the pitch that these sort of shenanigans are not tolerated or encouraged in the league.

The UFL is, and will be a key component to the growth and success of football here in the Philippines. The success and the growth of this league will be vital to the sport’s future in our country. The league, its clubs and players will serve as inspiration and role models to succeeding generations of Filipino football players. In this regard, I think it would be a good idea that there is no confusion between the UFL and the UFC.

2012 Moira G Gallaga©