Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The air gets thin up there

As a follow up to Babak Rafati, the FIFA referee who tried to take his own life right before a German 1st division match take a look at, "Bundesliga referee Babak Rafati diagnosed with depression", from In it we see one look into the pressure facing a FIFA referee who stated through his lawyer:
"Growing pressure for him to perform as a referee and the media pressure linked to that, combined with the constant fear of making mistakes, became a bigger and bigger burden," a statement from lawyer Sven Menke read. "This burden, at some point, made everyday problems seem insoluble and, in the end, he no longer felt able to cope with it."
Now when asked to speak about what it was like to a National and Professional League Referee for the time I did, I sometimes describe it as breathing "rarefied air", or sometimes "very thin air." There is a tremendous amount of pressure to perform regularly at these levels and one needs to be mentally prepared for that as they step onto that stage. There is no getting around this fact.

I say this as I recognize that it took great courage for Mr. Rafati to confront his condition head on and give such a clear statement about how he felt. It is rare to have one be so honest and personal about what they are going through, especially when one must act as a pillar of strength for those who rely on him.

While it is my genuine hope he will return to The Game in better health, it is also my sad suspicion he will not, as there is no getting around the very palpable, and very intense pressures bestowed on referees at that level, and sadly the stigma that generally accompanies mental conditions. You think its cruel when players call your gender into question ... imagine calling ones mental state into question. It may be a bridge too far.

Air at that level gets very thin, and ones survival is conditional on acclimating quickly or descending before getting hypoxic. Of course there are two ways down, under ones own power, or another's. The latter generally occurring without consent of the party descending and usually leads to great suffering.

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