This year's FIFA Presidential Award has been presented to Sweden's former international referee Anders Frisk. Apart from paying a personal tribute to a man who was one of the leading international referees, this will relay a powerful message of support for match officials who are still refereeing, and appeal for respect and discipline. UEFA President Lennart Johansson (Sweden) and Swedish football association president Lars-Ake Lagrell have congratulated Joseph S. Blatter on his choice.
The world of football was rocked in March 2005 when Anders Frisk, one of the leading international referees, prematurely called time on his career, revealing that he had suffered "the worst two weeks of his career" after receiving death threats from so-called supporters who were unhappy with his performance in a UEFA Champions League match. The wave of violence plumbed new depths due to some unacceptable behaviour from people who had been directly involved in the match in question.
Following Anders Frisk's announcement, Joseph S. Blatter issued a media release, stating: "I am appalled by the verbal attacks directed at referees. It is often such extreme behaviour that sparks off trouble among supporters. I strongly urge everyone concerned to show respect towards referees and demonstrate fair play."
Anders Frisk's refereeing career began in 1978. Thirteen years later, he joined the FIFA list of international referees and officiated at his first major event, the FIFA U-17 World Championship, in Japan in 1993. He also took charge of the final of EURO 2000 between France and Italy in Rotterdam on 2 July. Injury prevented him from appearing in the 1998 FIFA World Cup™ in France, but he was one of the match officials in Korea and Japan four years later.
Anders Frisk would have been on the shortlist of referees for the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™ and the very fact that his brilliant career was nipped in the bud must give the entire football family pause for much-needed thought. It is unacceptable that the "man in black", without whom no football match would be possible, is turned into the scapegoat for criticism - more often than not unjustified and totally out of proportion - from players, coaches, officials, supporters and media representatives.
Referees need trust and respect. Only then can they deliver quality performances, which are then automatically reflected in the quality of the game. Referees are not perfect, but are the players or the coaches? Football is a simple game, and that is one of the reasons for its phenomenal success, but it is also a game with a human element. "To remove the human element from refereeing, for example by using video evidence like certain people are suggesting, would be to remove the human element from football. That would be suicidal. We should never forget that football is only a game. Of course, it is a game that arouses so much passion and I am delighted by that, but above all, it is only a game," stressed the FIFA President.