An Auto-Driver, one of India’s six FIFA Certified Referees
MB Santhosh Kumar, an auto driver is one of only six referees accredited by FIFA from India.
India’s lousy ranking of 147 among football playing nations is consistent with the fact that a FIFA referee here can do no better than be an Auto-rickshaw driver.
MB Santhosh Kumar, one of only six referees accredited by FIFA from India, refereed the match where all eyes were on Mohun Bagan clinching their first I-league title in over thirteen years at Bengaluru’s Kanteerava stadium.
When the 40-year old Kumar is not on the field keeping an eye on players, he is driving an auto-rickshaw to make ends meet. Unfortunately, he will not be able to referee matches after he turns 45.
I always wanted to be a footballer. I suffered a knee injury when I was 21, so I could not become a player.
But he still went on to be a part if his favorite game by refereeing unofficial matches in Kerala before qualifying for professional ones.
Being a football referee in India does not provide enough for a living. Kumar initially worked as a caretaker at an apartment complex in Kottayam, and then took to driving auto-rickshaws.
Refereeing is not a reliable field. Professionally accredited referees do recieve renumeration, but tough for other. If we do not pass the fitness test, it is nearly impossible to come back to the field
He follows a demanding physical training schedule, starting from playing Basketball at the YMCA ground, then a workout at the gym, followed by football practice in the evenings.
He referees close to 150 games a year. A referee runs an average 11kms during every match.
Indian referees, as are players, a far cry from their counterparts in other soccer-playing nations. “We are still developing. Foreign referees even have a dietitian to keep a tab on what they eat,” he says.
Having been in the business for 20 years now, Kumar has refereed some important matches in India. Aside from the National Games in China in 2013 and the Nehru Cup in 2012, Kumar has also refereed former India captain Bhaichung Bhutia’s farewell game against German team Bayern Munich in 2011.
The quality has improved recently. We performed well in the ISL recently. Compared to international teams, quality is not up to the mark, but when compared with our previous record, we have definitely come a long way.
Kumar was awarded the best referee by the AlFF for a second year running. But in most matches, while the referee gets just a memento, players get cash rewards.
With football gradually reaching more homes in the country, Kumar hopes the government job he was promised will finally come through. “After some media reports, the Kerala Sports Council President Padmini Thomas and Sports Minister Thiruvanjoor Radhakrishnan visited and offered me a job,” he says.
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