Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Saudi international football referee Abdul Rahman Al-Zaid has called for foreign match officials to referee the upcoming finals of the country’s two top cup competitions if they are also derby games.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, he said he hoped the finals would be “assigned to foreign officials, especially if the teams . . . are Al-Hilal and Al-Nasr, because the pressure will be intense, which makes it more difficult for the local referee.”
Both Al-Hilal and Al-Nasr—who both hail from Riyadh and who also share an intense rivalry—are currently poised to reach the finals of the Saudi Crown Prince Cup and the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Cup.
“We wish we could have a Saudi referee at all cup finals, and it is within their rights, but the growing competition has had a negative effect on . . . performance, especially in derby matches,” he said.
Zaid, who took charge of two games during the 1998 World Cup in France, including the third-place playoff between Holland and Croatia at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris, said the level of competition between clubs in Saudi Arabia had become intense, resulting in more pressure on referees and consequently more blunders this season, in addition to the added pressure from both fans and the media.
“This season has seen a lot of focus on referees mistakes, which is natural in my opinion, even if they affected match results,” he said.
Zaid said that he still believed Saudi referees could be successful in finals if the matches were not also derbies, citing last year’s final of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Cup between Jeddah’s Al-Ittihad and Riyadh’s Al-Shabab, which was overseen by Saudi referee Marei Awaji, “who gave a fantastic performance because there was no pressure.”
He leveled criticism at the president of the Referees’ Committee at the Saudi Arabian Football Federation, Omar Al-Muhanna, “and his colleagues, for damaging what has been achieved since they took charge of the Referees’ Committee.”
“I mentioned at the start of the season in a TV sports program, and Muhanna was beside me at the time, that Saudi referees’ performance will change according to the strength in competition between the clubs, which is one of the things that led to an increase in bad refereeing decisions that are part of the game, and take place in all world leagues,” he said.
Zaid dismissed the possibility that referees were currently settling scores between themselves and Muhanna, because the referee would not deliberately go out to fail Muhanna’s committee, but that “in my opinion, I find the committee at times failing to select the right referee for the right match.”
Zaid called on the head of the Saudi Football League, Ahmad Eid, to increase the number of referees to at least 6,000 in the next three years. The Saudi League, which comprises four divisions and 153 clubs, is currently served by 850 referees.
Zaid said that this was “not sufficient . . . especially if we consider that the area of the country and its population are [much bigger than] the neighboring states,” Zaid said.
“We know that only 80 referees can officiate in the Jamil and Rakaa leagues,” he said in reference to the country’s top two divisions, the Saudi Professional League and the First Division, “in addition to 300 referees from 800 who run the Second Division and youth matches, and 500 referees who can only run regional leagues.”
Zaid also called on Saudi football officials to improve pay and conditions for working referees, warning of “a growing trend of antipathy that has begun to threaten refereeing as a whole, adding that “we [the Saudi Arabian League] cannot compare ourselves to the referees in Europe, where in England and Germany you find more than 40,000 working referees, because this large number of referees does help to achieve success.”
Speaking about the exclusion of Saudi referee Khalil Jalal from those officiating at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, Zaid said the reason in his opinion was the evaluation he received from both FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) evaluators, as well as the fact that Jalal had not received the needed support from the Saudi League and the Referees Committee.