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Football ref slapped in face by enraged club owner

Burmese referee Hla Min feels the sting after football club manager Hla Htay slapped him in the face. (PHOTO: Aung Thu Hein)

Zwegabin United Football Club owner Hla Htay may be prosecuted for assault after he slapped a referee in the face during a Burmese national league game last week.

The incident happened at the end of a tense match in Karen State between Zwegabin, who are based in state capital Hpa-an, and one of Burma’s top teams, Mandalay heavyweights Yadanarbon FC.

The match finished 2-1 to the visitors courtesy of two penalty kicks awarded by referee Hla Min in the second half.

At the final whistle, distraught manager Hla Htay marched onto the pitch and – instead of shaking hands with the referee which is customary – slapped him across the face.

The following day, the Myanmar Football Federation’s Referees Committee wrote up a letter of complaint to the federation’s Disciplinary Committee, labelling the slap as an insult to not only Hla Min as an individual referee, but to the entire Referees Committee, and called for action to be taken against the Zwegabin club owner.

The Disciplinary Committee was expected to announce its decision on Wednesday.

The Referees Committee said that Hla Min, if unsatisfied with the Disciplinary Committee’s decision, can press assault charges against Hla Htay.

“As for the Referees Committee, we cannot press charges against the club owner for what happened on the field, but the referee Hla Min, as an individual, can personally file a report to the police for physical assault,” said Tun Hla Aung, director of the Referees Committee.

Zwegabin FC was leading match 1-0 at half time, but Yadanarbob turned the game around in the second half with two penalty strikes. Referee Hla Min defended his decisions in awarding the penalty kicks, saying they were correct calls. He said that the Zwegabin United owner should have made an official complaint if he thought the decisions were unfair.

“I decided to give the first penalty because the [Zwegabin FC] players were repeatedly fouling their opponents within the 18-yard box,” said Hla Min. “Then once again they pulled back an opponent inside the box so I had no alternative but to blow for another penalty.

“If [Hla Htay] was unhappy with my decisions he should have followed official procedures. But to slap me in the face was out of order – it was also hurtful to my dignity.”

He said he will wait for the Disciplinary Committee’s decision to see whether it is necessary to press charges against the Zwegabin club owner.

Most media reports in Burma speculated Hla Htay may only receive a small fine. This was the first incident of its kind reported in Burmese football. However, in a well-publicised incident in 2012, popular actress Htet Htet Moe Oo, enraged by a reporter’s question on why she had been married six times, slapped her in the face. She escaped with as 1,000 kyat (US$1) fine.