Football Australia chief executive James Johnson is vowing to come down hard on the abuse of match officials as the governing body launches an investigation into the conduct of Western Sydney Wanderers chairman Paul Lederer.
Johnson said a recent spate of incidents involving referees had triggered “alarm bells” for Football Australia, leading to the governing body issuing a strongly worded statement on Tuesday.
FA’s Iranian-born referee Alireza Faghani was met with a torrent of online abuse after his officiating of the round-of-16 clash between Jordán and Iraq at the Asian Cup.
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Those incidents are fuelled further by the growing animosity between the Wanderers, Football Australia and the Australian Professional Leagues, who administer the A-Leagues.
And while Johnson would not comment on specific cases, the Football Australia boss has warned tough action will be taken.
“I want to say very clearly that there are some concerns about the way that match officials have been treated in recent times,” Johnson said. “Where there is a breach of our code, we’ll be opening an investigation and there’ll be consequences for any breaches.
“We’ve got to look at the tape of the footage, and that’s happening at the moment.
“So there’s one [investigation] that is open at the moment and that was opened as a consequence of some of the comments that Marko made a couple of weeks ago.
“With the [Lederer] instance over the weekend, again, it’s too early to say when and how this will be opened, but rest assured it will be looked at very seriously with objective eyes.”
Johnson said the A-Leagues were the shop window for most soccer viewers in Australia but noted that it was having a flow-on effect to the sport’s grassroots, claiming 40% of match officials walked away from the game each year.
The Australian Professional Leagues did not send a representative to Johnson’s press conference on Tuesday, missing a chance to stand arm-in-arm with Football Australia and present a united front. The Australian Professional Leagues did release a four-paragraph statement and Johnson was keen to underline the two parties were on the same page.
“We’re in very close contact with the Australian Professional Leagues and we work hand in hand on this issue,” he said. “We have different roles but we form the same view … what we’re seeing is not OK.
“We need to put a stop to it and send the right message.”