Referees will have a second opportunity to pass a fitness test before the start of the League of Ireland season.
What was described as an “unprecedented” number of match officials came up short in a pre-season fitness test in the National Indoor Arena in Abbotstown on Friday night. The new FIFA test, described as “stringent” by one observer, included a doubling of the laps of the track required to be completed from 20 to 40, and a reported 23 of the 70 participants failed the test.
It is expected that they will get a chance to re-take the test within the next fortnight.
Meanwhile, pressure is growing on the FAI to meet with referees’ representatives and address their grievances after match officials staged a walk-out at the annual Elite Referee Seminar on Saturday, in a protest over what they see as a damaging lack of funding as well as inadequate preparation time for the new rules – already in place in Britain - being introduced in League of Ireland football this season.
“There were only 50 minutes of the whole day to deal with the law changes,” said one official of the seminar which had been shortened from two days to one because of cutbacks. “There will be problems during the season and the first thing that will be said is that the rule changes are complex and there wasn’t enough time given to their interpretation.”
Referees and assistant referees say that the FAI’s failure to provide proper funding has impacted on fitness-coaching and the provision of training facilities. Match officials also have to cover the cost of their own kit and head-sets.
While there appeared to be no suggestion on Saturday of a strike threat to the League of Ireland kick-off, one source who was present at both the seminar and fitness tests the previous night, said: “The frustration has been building for years and now it's coming to a head. The FAI will have to meet with the referees’ representatives to discuss all these problems."
Already in the schedule is a meeting between referees and the League next Thursday, in which topics on the agenda include match fees and expenses for the new season.
The refereeing controversy comes on top of existing uncertainty about the new League of Ireland season, following strong opposition within the First Division to the admission of a Shamrock Rovers B team and the release of a second ‘draft’ fixture list to allow for the possibility that Limerick FC could receive a licence and make it an 11-team division.