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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Soccer Referees Set to Make $3,000 a Game

Soccer referees don't have it easy: They get beaten, sworn at, kidnapped, abused in the press and are offered envelopes full of money by shady men.

But the Russian Soccer League has a plan to make the lives of the men in black more comfortable: raising their wages to $3,000 a game.

Premier league referees now earn only a seventh of that sum, or 12,000 rubles ($413) a month. The amount is a decent wage for most Russians and is considerably higher than the salaries many players earn in the lower leagues.

If wages are raised as planned, referees could earn up to $6,000 a month. By comparison, an English premier league referee earns less than half that amount, ?900 ($1,290) a game.

The soccer league, which refused requests for comment, was scheduled to meet Thursday to discuss the proposal.

"They want to do it [raise salaries] to make referees more objective," said Vladimir Radionov, the secretary-general of the Russian Soccer Union, which has to approve the decision. "Good wages will compel referees to value their profession."

Referees have come under severe pressure this season as managers fiercely criticized their mistakes. Valery Gazzayev, who quit as Dynamo coach this week, said there were only three highly qualified referees in the premier league. Two referees were suspended this month after making mistakes.

But the major reason for the pay hike is a fear of corruption.

"It's a good stimulus to earn money honestly, not by taking it in an envelope" said Oleg Medvedev, spokesman for Dynamo Moscow.

Russian soccer has long suffered corruption. Matches in which the scores are agreed beforehand are quite common in the lower leagues, according to Mark Rafalov, a former referee. Game-fixing can be seen at the end of a season in the premier league, when teams need points to avoid relegation or to qualify for European cup competition.

Rafalov remembers being offered bundles of banknotes — which he said he refused — when he was a referee.

"If they're civilized," Rafalov joked, "they put the money in an envelope."

Andrei Butenko, a current premier league referee, said he was taken away by gunmen before a match in Tajikistan in 1991 and told with a gun to his stomach that the Tajik side shouldn't lose, Moskovsky Komsomolets recently reported.

Referee Viktor Kulagin said earlier this week that he decided to withdraw from Wednesday's match between Torpedo Zil and Spartak Moscow because of family circumstances, Sovietsky Sport reported. But the newspaper said the real reason for the withdrawal was because unidentified assailants severely beat Kulagin near his apartment Saturday after he gave a controversial offside decision in a match between Sokol Saratov and Saturn Ramenskoye.

Last season, an official of Anzhi Makhachkala entered the dressing room after a game and punched the referee, but no action was taken against him, Rafalov said. In comparison, then-Sheffield Wednesday player Paolo Di Canio was banned for 12 games in 1998 after pushing a referee during an English premier league game.

This season the clubs have a gentlemen's agreement between themselves not to pressure referees to favor their sides, one club official said.

Not everyone, however, is convinced that raising referees' wages is the right way to stop corruption or reduce mistakes. "If a referee makes a mistake, doesn't give a foul, is that really corruption?" said Lom Ali Ibragimov, a former referee.

Money won't improve the referee's performance, critics said. Referees, who now only get one training session during the winter while players travel abroad, just need more training, they said.

"Referees have to go on tours with teams," said Ibragimov. "Then at the start of the season they will already be ready."

And Ibragimov is not impressed with carping about the quality of referees.

"What, do our teams play well?" he said. "That's how they play and that's how we referee."

The money won't make them run faster or referee better, said Vladimir Konstantinov, deputy editor of Sport-Express' soccer section. Anyway, he added, the money involved in bribing is far more than $3,000.

Ibragimov is certain who to blame for corruption — and it's not the referees. "If they don't give money, then referees don't take money," he said. "Those who give money are the ones involved in corruption, not those who take it.