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Referee boss says officials will be ready when Major League Soccer resumes play


Referees and their assistants are confident the game will be safe when soccer resumes in North America, says former top referee Howard Webb.

But there inevitably will be some changes in behaviour in the COVID-19 world. 

Webb, general manager of the Professional Referee Organization (PRO), says he saw a recent Korean game where a player on the ground asked the referee to help him up.

The ref declined.

"It was quite interesting to see how that was on the mind of that particular official," Webb told a conference call Wednesday. "Again we'll be reminding our referees of the need to not create unnecessary contact when it doesn't need to happen. And to be sensible and to maintain their personal space.

"But that's pretty standard officiating anyway, not to get into a player's face, for example."

Still he said he had seen nothing official from the International Football Association Board (IFAB) about COVID-19-related changes other than a temporary move to allow five substitutes per match.

He said officials are preparing for everything — including working out of a central hub if Major League Soccer goes ahead with a reported plan to bring all the teams to a location like the Orlando area when the league returns to action without spectators.

Webb acknowledged that not all of his officials may be able to commit the time needed to move to a hub for a block of games.

"We're hoping as many as possible will," he said.

Officials are as keen as the players to get back to action, Webb said.

"I've had no pushback in terms of the safety issues," he added. "I think our workforce is fully confident that the environment will be a safe one and that testing will be available and that the necessary PPE (personal protection equipment) will be available."

Webb said officials will have to be tested for COVID-19, like the players.

"It's not possible to socially distance our officials when they're doing their job," he said. "And of course, the games will be meaningful when they get started again and they'll be officiated in the normal way."

PRO officials are in contact with MLS twice a week as the league works on getting back on the field.

On the plus side, Webb said his officials are well equipped to work remotely during the pandemic, given they do it during the season due to their geographical spread.

The officials are taking part in virtual "training camps" and fitness regimens.

MLS referees are full-time and are still getting paid although they are not receiving match fees. Assistant referees and video assistant referees are not full time, although they get a retainer at the start of the season. They too are missing game fees.

Webb said PRO staff like himself have taken a pay cut during the pandemic.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 13, 2020.


Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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