Viktor Kassai and the secretive world of the MLSz refereeing department

It is now public knowledge that Viktor Kassai has not been selected for the World Cup in Russia 2018. Gayle Hope takes a look at the reasons why and delves a bit deeper into the secretive world of the referees’ department (MLSz JB).

It should be noted right from the outset that, of the 55 nations making up the UEFA confederation, only 13 nations will be representing themselves at the World Cup along with just 10 referees.  The referees that will be going are all on the FIFA elite list of referees. In UEFA alone there are 27 referees from various nations on the elite list, including Viktor Kassai. Only 37% of those actually make the final list. Twenty of those 27 were on the pre-selection list, which gradually gets whittled down until just the final 10 remain. Therefore, there is no guarantee for any referee that he will make the final call, even if he is currently ranked number 3 in the world!  Cüneyt Çakir from Turkey and Björn Kuipers are the only referees inside the IFFHS top 5 rankings who will be going to the World Cup – they are jointly ranked 5th. Mark Clattenburg (1st) and Nicola Rizzoli (2nd) have both retired, whereas Jonas Eriksson (4th) has not made the final cut either.

Outside of refereeing circles most will believe that Kassai’s omission from the World Cup will be purely down to his performances and the fact that he has had a few high-profile errors over the past 18 months or so. This no doubt played a part in the UEFA referee’s committees decision however they will have also considered representations made by the MLSz JB on Kassai’s behalf.  The MLSz JB did not back Kassai at all, in fact, they did quite the opposite.

At the 2017 Annual General Meeting, Sándor Csányi, President of the MLSz evaluated referee performances overall and stated that referees could make mistakes but that any arrogance would not be tolerated. He further stated that in such cases it may even be conceivable that a referee would not be nominated for the FIFA list. This led many to believe that Kassai would not be nominated to remain on the FIFA list. This was a surprise to many others as Kassai has a reputation amongst his peers for being pleasant, affable and as having a great sense of humour. Whilst he is very proud of his achievements it is said that he also maintains a high degree of modesty and is always quick to point out good decisions made by his team members, such as a tight offside call and quite clearly states that he would not have been able to achieve any of what he has without a strong, decent team supporting and backing him all the way. He is very well known to promote a team ethos, if one of his team makes an error, it is the error of them as a team, with no blaming of an individual, if they have a decent game, it is a team success. I have watched him explain the advantage law to a 12-year-old trainee referee 10 times on the trot, whilst coaching them, and all the while with a huge smile on his face and in a calm, relaxed manner, not even a hint of irritation that they just couldn’t get it because it isn’t logical to them. This is a man who by all accounts will freely give up his time, and more often than not travel at his own expense, to coach and mentor young and inexperienced referees. One of his fellow professionals at UEFA stated “Viktor is a really nice guy, not an ounce of arrogance in him. He is well-liked and respected by all of us. He’s an excellent referee and is always trying to improve himself. I enjoy working with him on the rare occasions I get to do so. I find it absolutely scandalous the way he is treated by the MLSz”.

Around the end of September, rumours became very strong that Sándor Puhl, Vice President of the MLSz JB was going to nominate Kassai in 6th place on the FIFA list. Our source at UEFA was horrified and described it as scandalous at best. At that time, the nominations had not been submitted and UEFA sent a strong message to the MLSz by naming Kassai for a couple of high profile UEFA CL matches, despite him not featuring in the domestic leagues. They were showing that he had their support and their backing.  He is very well liked and respected at UEFA – unlike, it appears, at the MLSz.

FIFA nominations are submitted at the end of October. On 12th November, we received confirmation from our source at UEFA that Sándor Puhl had indeed nominated Kassai as number 6 in the FIFA list and in effect has nominated him for demotion from the elite list. Vad was nominated as number 1, with Bognár as number 2 and UEFA feel that Puhl is trying to force them into accepting these rankings despite UEFA believing otherwise. Whilst Bognár is popular at UEFA, Vad is not.  The latter is seen as arrogant by UEFA and is not trusted, viewing him as too inconsistent and error-prone. We have been unable to ascertain Vad Sr.’s (the father of Vad) exact role within the MLSz, however, he is a senior member of staff and is known to be friends with and a supporter of Puhl. There are claims that he has used his position and friendship to try and influence his son, replacing Kassai as the number 1 referee. The UEFA referee’s committee have sought independent assessments of Kassai’s domestic matches as there is a suspicion that he is deliberately being unjustly marked down. They have copies of the videos of his games but as yet there has been no confirmation as to whether he received different marks from their assessors or not.

It is common knowledge that every Football Association runs on an element of, “it’s not what you know but who you know“, and there is always a degree of favouritism and that is unlikely to ever really change. That might be ok, to a degree at least, in terms of matches being allocated on a favouritism basis as opposed to merit-based, like they should be, but when it reaches the stage where a man’s career is adversely affected because he is not ‘the favourite’ then it has gone too far and questions must be asked about the decision making. When one hears comments from other FA’s (Romania, Poland, Germany, England, France, Greece, Slovakia, Russia and various FA’s within the UAE and CAF federation, to our knowledge, as well as within UEFA) that they feel that Kassai is being treated “appallingly”, “dreadfully”, “disgracefully” and “scandalously” by the MLSz JB, it might be prudent to ask very serious questions of the management and whether they are still competent to do the job they’ve been entrusted to uphold with integrity.

There has been a very noticeable decline in the standard of Hungarian refereeing particularly over the past 18 months – 2 years, not just at NB1 level but right down to grassroots level.  There is growing discontent amongst the referees themselves about the lack of management under Sándor Puhl and Sándor Berzi. They state within their small trusted community that they dare not question Puhl’s authority, however, as it would probably mean the end of their career.

When Sándor Csányi was elected President of the MLSz in 2010 he promised to run a transparent, verifiable alliance. The MLSz JB are not in any way transparent. Sándor Puhl’s accounts are allowed to be secret. He doesn’t have to account for what money is being spent on. You cannot know exactly how much he’ll get to review reports, transcripts, or travel expenses or even his basic wage. He seemingly lives in the same hotel used for meetings and where the commission organises events, there is a question mark over whether the hotel is paid for by the MLSz. This certainly looks suspicious to everyone else, particularly after problems with the MLSz JT, with car hire, cost accounts, and several astronomical phone bills.

The professional referees training, we are told, now takes place at the hotel where there are no proper facilities for fitness training or practical demonstrations/training. It is unclear what, if any, training they receive during their fortnightly meetings but it could go part way into explaining the general decline in fitness levels, with the non-FIFA referees if they are receiving no fitness training and simply being left to their own devices with no guidance.  The FIFA referees will receive fitness training at the various UEFA courses that they attend across the year. They typically attend at least 4 courses that last for an entire week, during which they are required to also take a fitness test.  They are also provided with dedicated training regimes, unlike the non-FIFA referees.  There doesn’t appear to be any coaches/mentors/assessors/sports psychologists attending these meetings either.  Contrast this with England where referees meet for 2 days every 2 weeks at St Georges, during those 2 days they will train together as a team, they receive Laws of the Game (LOTG) training and guidance, mistakes are analysed and guidance given as to how these mistakes can be avoided in the future and referees have access to coaches/assessors/mentors and sports psychologists. The system in England may not be perfect but it is vastly superior.

In Hungary, a computer-based system has been put into place known as the Integrated Football Application (IFA) similar to the Match Officials Administration System (MOAS) used in the UK. All referees and match day assessors have access to the system. Currently, it is very underutilised for want of a better term. Referees receive an email on Thursday to tell them which game they will be involved with on the following Saturday, on occasion leaving them with having to make travel arrangements of distances up to 400km the following day to attend the game. No consideration is given to their family life, no allowance given for them to be able to plan any family activities. The appointments always used to come out at 10 am on a Tuesday morning.  This has worked well in the past, why is this no longer the case?

In terms of match day assessors, they receive an email on a Friday giving them a game to assess. There is no record kept of this on IFA, no official transmission, no invoice for expenses etc. Referees are not informed who their matchday assessor will be and they may or may not see them before or after a game! A referee should always have the opportunity to speak with an assessor both pre and post-match – their honest assessment is vital for a referees development. We are advised that, post-match, the assessors have to contact Vencel Tóth Sr and report in a few words about any dubious decisions. He then passes on a summary to Sándor Puhl. This in itself is not unusual. When Keren Barrett was still working for the PGMOL in England he would always phone each of the Premier League referees post-match to ascertain if there had been any problems or contentious decisions that the referee management needed to know about so that they were prepared for when the press and managers started calling to complain or ask for explanations. By noon the following day, the assessor sends a detailed list of match day incidents to Sándor Puhl via email (again, not unusual).  Puhl is then said to ‘clarify’ what can and cannot go in the report. If this claim is true then it makes a complete mockery of the assessing system.  Referees are not perfect and match day assessments are a great resource for them to be able to identify where they have gone wrong in any given match and analyse how to prevent similar mistakes in future. They cannot do this if an incompetent and seemingly dishonest system is in place.

There are several calls for referees to explain contentious decisions post-match.  Whilst this may seem a good idea in theory, practically speaking it is not the most sensible thing to do when emotions are still running high and any “questioning” of a referee could very easily descend into no more than a verbal personal attack on them.  They will also at that stage have not had the opportunity to watch an incident back and may well be unaware they have made an error.  It is, however, beneficial to explain decisions to managers, players and even the fans. A lot of perceived referee errors are in fact not errors at all but a lack of knowledge of the intricate details of the LOTG on the part of managers, players and fans. What would perhaps be a more sensible compromise would be for the MLSz JB to issue a written summary to the press of any key match incidents from the weekend with an explanation, if there is one.  If a manager has wrongly stated in his post-match interview that a particular incident was an error on the referees part then he should also be told that his claim is wrong and have the relevant section of the LOTG explained to him so that he understands that the referee was, in fact, correct and he was the one who was wrong. This should be made public as well so that fans know that the referee was, in fact, correct in his decision making.  In some cases, where there has been a referee error, there is often a very simple explanation (i.e. a player ran into the line of view of the referee at the crucial moment impeding his vision, from his angle he could not see let’s say a handball because it was on his blindside etc.).  Sometimes they just call one wrong for no apparent reason and probably can’t fathom out why themselves, so just be honest and say yes they got that decision wrong. As long as a referee has made his decision honestly at the time, believing he is correct, which the vast majority of referees do, people will be more accepting of mistakes. In an ideal world, the mistakes should be treated no differently than mistakes by the players, both can be as costly in terms of affecting the outcome of a match. Referees go into a match wanting to get more right than wrong especially the big calls but they are human and will make mistakes. Referees should not be punished for simple human error, however at the same time errors should not be overlooked and if the referee has made an error through his fault (wrong position, etc.) as opposed to having just been unlucky (player crosses into view at crucial moment, etc.) then they need to take responsibility for that and work hard to learn from it.

What should happen post-match is that a referee should be given the opportunity to go through the match video with an assessor or coach and look at any errors, analyse what went wrong and work on strategies to prevent a re-occurrence in the future. It may be the case that they had got themselves caught out of position as long as a couple of minutes before an incident because they didn’t correctly anticipate which way play was going and, whilst trying to catch up, they left themselves in a position where their angle of view of an incident was not very good. Therefore, they have not seen the incident, or their view gives a completely different impression of what has happened. The developmental issue there is their positioning and something they need to be focusing on improving.

The MLSz JB has allegedly not been directly involved with County referees since 2010. Recruitment is down and there has been no increase in match fees, although membership fees of the MLSz JT has increased.  No training materials or guidance is provided and there is no regular training. Match fees are more often than not paid late. Each county president dictates his county as he sees fit with no professional or ethical accountability. In some counties, the President of the County FA is earning millions whilst the referees match fees barely cover their cost of travel. In other counties the Presidents earn less and, instead, filter the money into training, assessing and match fees. There is no continuity between counties.  Nationwide continuity is important at grassroots level as these are potentially the top flight referees of the future. There is a strong feeling that several county FA presidents have been given the role purely as a “job for the boys” so as to ensure the counties have pro-Puhl leaders in place.  Matchday assessors are virtually non-existent with very few games having an assessor attend and the entire system sounds like a complete mess.


What needs to happen?

First off Sándor Csányi needs to take a long hard look at the state of refereeing and realise that the current portrayed dictatorial system is simply not working. If all of these claims are indeed true then he needs to take action quickly and rectify the situation before it gets any worse.  It is an unfair system for the referees themselves, they are being let down and this has wider implications across the game for teams as well as causing a low morale amongst referees themselves. The sole role of the referee’s committee should be to improve the standard of refereeing from top to bottom and the current regime is currently failing in this regard. Even if all of these claims turn out to be false accusations, the current system in place is still failing the referees and the game in general and vast improvements need to be implemented. A complete revamp is required.

  • New leadership needs to be brought in, who will be held accountable for their actions and who are prepared to operate transparently and honestly.
  • The bi-weekly referee meetings need to be held in a suitable location, with dedicated training facilities so that fitness and practical training sessions can be carried out by qualified staff. Training to also include analysing key match errors as a group, not as a tool to ridicule a colleague but as developmental training for all of them, nutritional advice, general support and practical application of the LOTG. Excellent decisions should also be highlighted, for example: a sublime advantage that has been played. Not only does this highlight what has gone right, it is also a fantastic learning tool for the younger and more inexperienced refs. They can learn as much from a masterclass performance as they can from one that has been inadequate.
  • Referees to be given their advised fitness training regime for the following 2 weeks and have a copy of this supplied to all referees at all levels. This is a developmental aid, particularly for the more inexperienced referees.
  • Referees and assessors should receive their appointments for the following week on the Monday or Tuesday of the week. Referees should also be told who is assessing them that weekend. Not only does this allow a referee and assessor to plan any family activities for the weekend around their game but it gives the referees time to contact the members of their team and discuss any issues that they feel they need to ahead of the game.
  • The fitness test needs to be brought up to the same level as UEFA for all professional referees and AR’s as in other country FAs.
  • Every referee, at least in the NB1, NB2 and NB3, should have a dedicated mentor/coach and have the opportunity to meet with them, even if this takes place via Skype or similar to discuss key match incidents, where they are going wrong and where they are getting it just right. Coaches/mentors should be providing support and guidance. In the professional leagues, 2 coaches per division would be ideal, with coaching groups comprising of half of the referees each.
  • A fair and honest match day assessing system needs to be put in place, particularly in the NB1, NB2 and NB3. Assessments should be made purely on the merits of the game assessed and not whether the referee is popular or not with the powers-that-be, or any other external factor. These should then be used as a developmental aid and to target the referees training on a more personal level. Tell them where they are going wrong and work with them to fix it, tell them where they are going right and help them maintain that.
  • Appointments should be made on merit and not on popularity or any other issues. If a referee is performing well then they should be getting the big games, it should be their reward. This should also include giving the female FIFA referees a chance to referee NB1 games, on merit. It is laughable to see the world’s current number 1 female referee not be given NB1 games seemingly purely because she is female. Miss Kulcsár is an excellent referee, backed up by the fact UEFA have felt her capable of handling the Champions League final in 2016 as well as several other international matches, including World Cup matches.  The U17 final was given to her as a reward for some outstanding performances, European Championship matches, Champions League and Europa League matches, albeit within the women’s game. She has certainly earned a chance at refereeing within the NB1 on merit.
  • The retirement age needs to be brought into line with UEFA. At that level referees are given an extra year beyond the age of 45 subject to certain criteria. This should be the same at domestic level including adopting the same criteria as UEFA. If any referee does not meet all of the criteria (merit marks, fitness & additional medical tests) then, quite simply, they do not earn an extra year. It is not right that a FIFA official is unable to take up that extra year with UEFA because they are forced to retire in their domestic league, like Gábor Erös last year.
  • Ideally, meetings to be held between the refereeing management and team managers every 2-3 months to discuss in a calm and rational manner what they feel is going well and what isn’t. Bridge the gap and work together to improve the game! The results of these meetings need not be public but should be used as a positive tool. Not only refereeing issues to be discussed but player/manager/coaching staff behaviour and discipline. Managers need to understand that the more their players dive, cheat and generally try to con referees then, logically, the more chance there will be that the referees will be conned and thereby make incorrect decisions, which the manager will then complain about and conveniently ignore his players own lack of discipline or unsporting behaviour! Players, managers and coaching staff have to be held accountable as well for their actions and behaviours that directly hinder a referee’s ability to do his job effectively.
  • County referee committees, the positions should be salaried. A set salary across all counties to prevent the inequality that seemingly currently exists.
  • A standardised match day assessment structure nationwide. It is not practical to expect every referee at grassroots level to be assessed in every match and the focus would have to be on those who are going for promotion but every referee outside of the professional leagues should be assessed at least 4-6 times across the season.
  • Standardised match day fees, set by the level of football, logically youth level football would attract the lowest match day fees but there should be some increase in fee between refereeing an U14 match, an U16 match and U18 match for example.
  • Standardised training regimes for grassroots level. Monthly training meetings held across each county, these could be held or taken by a senior referee in the respective area. Utilise county level referees who are close to retirement or have retired.
  • A system of proper support put in at all levels for all referees. Even at grassroots level they should have access to coaches/mentors. Again, senior referees can be utlised to mentor the younger and inexperienced referee.
  • IFA to be utilised in full, with all relevant information accessible. Things like training plans and nutritional advice etc can also be added into the system for all referees to be able to access and benefit from.

We are not an enemy of the referees. Far from it, in fact. We just want the referees to be given the right tools and support in order for them to do their job and do it well.  They should be able to do so without fear, they should be able to go into every game confident that they are fully prepared for whatever the 90 minutes brings.  With no referees, there is no game but if they are just cast adrift with no support, no guidance and no help then they cannot improve themselves no matter how much they want to and that has an adverse effect on their effectiveness, their morale and self-belief as well as on the game in general. It’s about time they are set up to succeed wherever possible instead of being ignored while they flounder with nowhere to turn for guidance.

It has come to light that during a disciplinary hearing, Zoltan Liptak stated that Kassai made a racist comment towards his then-teammate Patrick Mevoungou during DVTK vs Vasas at the end of the 2016/17 season. Kassai has denied this accusation and is currently taking legal action against Liptak for defamation. We will not comment on this at this stage because there are ongoing legal proceedings and we don’t wish to prejudice that case.

A copy of this article will be sent to both the MLSz JB and Sándor Csányi for comment and we will publish any response we receive. We did try to get a response from the MLSz JB prior to publication but have received no response as yet. We did not, however, make them aware of all of the allegations that we have been told about and it may well be that they are waiting to see the full article before responding. If we are asked to keep part or all of the response confidential we will of course comply and state that we have received a response in confidence with a comment about what they are willing to allow us to say publically.