German football ref's suicide bid highlights pressure
The intense pressure on those involved in football has been thrown into question again in Germany after the attempted suicide of a top referee just before he was due to officiate a Bundesliga game.
Two years after the tragic death of Germany goalkeeper Robert Enke, who took his life after battling with depression for several years, the news of the suicide bid by a top-level ref has sent shockwaves through the German league.
German league referee Babak Rafati, 41, was discovered in the bathtub of his hotel room in Cologne by his assistant referees early on Saturday afternoon having tried to commit suicide by cutting open his veins.
His condition was later stabilised in hospital and he is expected to be moved off the intensive care ward in the next few days, but the inquest into what drove him to try to take his own life is sure to last much longer.
Theo Zwanziger, president of the German Football Federation (DFB), revealed Rafati had left suicide notes and police are ruling out any foul play.
"I think the most important thing is that his health is stable and he will be moved off the high-dependency unit in the next few days, but will be given intensive care and support" said Zwanziger.
"It is an extraordinary situation, when one of our top referees makes a suicide attempt and it is always very difficult to think that a relatively young man can see only one way out of a situation.
"I can only explain that the pressure on our referees for various reasons is extremely high and we do not make it easy to find a proper balance.
"It would be wrong and inappropriate to speculate at this point about how this came about, but it is hoped that he can return to normal life and be healthy again.
"I have promised the three members of Rafati's team all the support and assistance that the DFB can provide.
"They are all working and face a difficult task in the next few days to cope with the mental stress.
"After Babak was not at breakfast, and then didn't come to a meeting to discuss the game, his assistants had his room opened and they found him in the bathtub.
"There was a lot of blood. That is all I can say, the other details should be spared, but I have to say, the three assistant referees saved Babak's life."
The German league match Rafati should have officiated between Cologne and Mainz was called off 40 minutes before kick-off and will be replayed.
The shock waves are still being felt in the Bundesliga and Schalke coach Huub Stevens was dumbfounded.
"It's hard to believe that something like this can happen," said the Dutchman.
"I am lost for words.
"Health is always the most important thing and football is only a minor matter in comparison.
"I can imagine no one wanted to play after hearing the news."
Rafati, who is of Iranian origin, has been a Bundesliga referee for six years, ironically his first match having also been between Cologne and Mainz, and he has officiated 84 top-flight German league games.
He had been a FIFA referee since 2008, but was not nominated by the DFB to referee this year at international level.
He had been often criticised by Bundesliga players and German magazine Kicker had voted him the worst referee in the league on a few occasions.
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