CHENNAI: From a distance, it appears as if they are there to play. Similar in age and built — they all look like players in the CFA league. But just before the start of the game, you see them get ready to play different roles. While most change into playing gear and the colours of their teams, some of them slip into the uniform of referees.
Welcome to the world of student match officials in the city’s top football league. They do duty with whistle in the middle and run along the sidelines with flags. Referees and assistant referees, they are still in college, officiating these matches with the dream of making it to the higher level. In most leagues in other cities in India, referees are older, who work elsewhere for a living and function as match officials for a few bucks more.
R Ganesh, 23, and Satya Krishna, 21, are two of the 10 student match officials in a pool of 30 this season. The number has been like that for a few years in the CFA league, which can’t afford to hire professionals for these roles. For all their toil under the sun, referees in the Senior Division are paid `125 per match. It’s `100 in the First Division. There has been no hike in four years. CFA referees’ convenor Stephen Charles said the association can’t increase this since it does not have sufficient funds.
But instead of being deterred by the meagre remuneration, these youngsters take their job seriously. “It’s all about prioritising, when I choose between studies and refereeing. I like being doing this. I ask for leave from college when I have to officiate matches,” says Ganesh.
This student of YMCA College for Physical Education wants to emulate K Sankar, who was linesman at the 2002 World Cup. The Tamil Nadu man remains India’s only match official at the big event till date. “I don’t see my work in terms of how much it fetches me. I see how successful I am, in getting closer to my goal. I was one among the 25 budding referees across the country selected for the AIFF’s future India programme (a referees’ course) last year and it’s been very helpful.”
Doing M Sc in Biotechnology in New College, Satya Krishna wants to see himself at the highest position as a referee in a few years. “There is lot of respect for referees and we are like the judges of the game. And I love to take such responsibilities,” he says.
There have been more like Ganesh and Satya Krishna. Not all are in touch with game any longer, after having secured jobs in other sectors. But for those aspiring to take it up seriously, there are role models. Tamil Nadu has a tradition of producing good referees and at this moment, there are three from the state in AIFF’s list of FIFA referees. “I am motivated by many referees, who have pushed their limits to be among the best in the country,” says Satya Krishna.
“Some of our referees are recognised by FIFA and AIFF, who are officiating in ISL, I-League and Super Cup. It’s good to see so many showing interest in becoming referees. There will be opportunities for professional referees in future,” says Charles.