Sankar’s historic moment

S.S. KUMAR

Komaleeswaran Sankar chased a dream and enjoyed the thrill of realising it when he became part of the officiating team in the 2002 World Cup, co-hosted by Japan and Korea. As a footballer, Sankar did not have hopes of going far because the opportunities were limited and besides he knew his limitation as a player. He played for Tamil Nadu in the Quilon National championship in 1987-88 but soon decided to change his path. He wanted to take up coaching or refereeing. His mentor and guide T. R. Govindarajan, a veteran football administrator, who headed the Referees Board once, suggested to him that he would be better of being a referee. “He said I could progress far. Those words drove me,” said the first and the only Indian thus far to officiate in a World Cup.

Sankar, who was an employee of Indian Bank, parted ways recently to join the Asian Football Confederation as a Referees Development Officer with base in Kuala Lumpur. “It was a decision that was again influenced by my desire to remain attached to a sport that is close to my heart,” he said. “I am always on the look out for opportunities,” Sankar said.

“Refereeing in my time was different,” said Sankar. First, one has to understand the nuances of the laws thoroughly… then he has to be clear in his interpretation on the field. Expectedly his rise was fast at the national level but the big moment came in 1996 when he officiated in the Asia Cup competition in Dubai. “My Guru was Faroukh Bozo, the referee's in-charge, and he saw something in me.” That was the turning point and the rest is history.

“I was on the line for three matches in 2002 (Mexico v Croatia, Belgium v Russia and Belgium was Tunisia), all preliminary Group matches. The high standards and speed formed the challenge. But then I mingled with some of the best referees in the world.” Sankar went on about his amazing experience. “What I will always cherish is the experience of officiating along with renowned Pierluigi Collina (Italian who officiated in the final of that World Cup), Philip Sharp (England) and Kim Nielson (Denmark). Despite being raw to the occasion, they ensured I did not have any complex,” he said.

Things have changed vastly now. Most importantly FIFA has introduced the ‘trio’ system where in the three on-field officials are to be from the same region or country. “It makes it even more difficult then to get to the top rung,” Sankar said, while adding that AFC has taken measures to improve the referees with development programmes. The specially chosen referees from various countries are given opportunities to officiate in high-level competitions and are constantly evaluated. Still, he felt it would take a minimum of “six to ten years” for another Indian to come anywhere near to officiate in the World Cup.