Portuguese match officials living in fear of violence

A controversial decision by the Portuguese federal government to end funding of police protection at professional and amateur games has become a major safety issue for match officials, the head of the Portuguese referee’s association said on Thursday from Lisbon.

The price tag for police presence at football matches had cost state and municipal governments close to $6.79-million (U.S. currency) per year; The yet to be fully-ratified law would instead see the clubs pick up the cost of security.

As the law is fazed in on an experimental basis many matches, some involving premier league clubs, have taken place with only ushers and private security staff overseeing security to the worry of referees and football observers in Portugal.

The head of the APAF said the decision had already unsettled match officials, especially new inexperienced ones.

“Sending an 18-year-old onto the pitch to spend 90 minutes fearing that if he gives a penalty or red card the folks will jump him is not good…Fairness and freedom from bias are at stake,” he told Reuters.

Premier League referee Pedro Proenca had recently threatened to refuse officiating a match between Vitoria Guimaraes and Vitoria Setubal but eventually decided to go ahead with the match.

The referees hope to change the government from ratifying the new law and stated that their refusal to officiate future matches could become a reality if the government fails to negotiate.