League announces crackdown
The Premier League has announced it will launch a new campaign designed to improve the behaviour of both players and managers towards match officials next season.
The initiative was approved unanimously by a meeting of club chairmen on Thursday, and Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore later confirmed that the crackdown will attempt to address recent "unacceptable" behaviour that referees have been subjected to.
The most high-profile incident relating to match officials this season saw Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson banned for five matches after criticising Martin Atkinson following a defeat to Chelsea at the start of March. Scudamore hopes to avoid similar incidents in future.
He said: "The clubs unanimously backed the idea that at the start of next season we want to raise the bar, we want to improve behaviour. I think we do need to concentrate on the player and manager relationship with the referee this time, as every one of us knows that there have been elements of unacceptable behaviour.
"As to what we think is unacceptable; it's vitriolic abuse towards match officials and that has on occasions gone unpunished; the surrounding of referees is unacceptable; the goading of referees into trying to get opponents sanctioned we think is unacceptable; and also the undue criticism, where it spills over into questioning the referee's integrity or his honesty is also unacceptable.''
Scudamore said the League Managers' Association had expressed its support for the new campaign. The Premier League will also consult the Football Association, the Professional Footballers' Association and the body that represents match officials in order to crystallise plans.
He added: "We are at a point in the game where we do have to rein back from some of this undue criticism of match officials. The debate will come and we will have it in consultation with managers, and remember the managers are also employed by the clubs so the unanimous support of the clubs today is important.
"Footballers enjoy a privileged life. The contrast between what is happening in their world and what is happening in the rest of Britain, and indeed most of the world, is getting starker. Whether it is realistic or not they can't entirely be perfect role models, they are young males and boys can behave badly from time to time.
"But there is a point where extra responsibility comes with the territory. There are so many good things about what footballers do, so this is not us demonising them. But the mood is that things could improve."
The FA launched its own Respect campaign in the 2007-08 season and despite various setbacks, the governing body says bookings for dissent across the top four divisions dropped by 9% in the 2009-10 season, with referee numbers rising by 7.4%.
The Premier League says bookings for dissent in the top flight have decreased by 20% year on year over the past two seasons.