Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero will not face punishment for touching a female assistant referee in Saturday’s 1-0 win over Arsenal in the English Premier League.
The Argentine star confronted Sian Massey-Ellis after he disputed her decision to award a throw-in against his team, touching her on the neck and shoulder before the official swatted him away.
Players can be cautioned for physical contact with a referee if it is deemed non-aggressive and can be sent off if it is considered to be aggressive and/or confrontational.
Retrospective charges can only be brought against a player for touching an official if their actions are adjudged as being aggressive and/or confrontational.
Aguero went unpunished during the match and the referee’s governing body in England said the incident was not deemed aggressive or threatening.
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola defended Aguero in the post-match news conference.
“Come on, guys. Sergio is the nicest person I have ever met in my life. Look for problems in other situations, not in this one,” he said.
Aguero, who is City’s all-time record goalscorer and was playing his first game since June after knee surgery, was criticised by his former team-mate Micah Richards who said on Sky Sports he should “know better”.
The incident also caused a storm on social media, with many criticising the player’s actions.
Samantha Lewis, a women’s football writer, said Aguero intended to intimidate Massey-Ellis by the way he touched her.
Football writer Liam Twomey slammed Guardiola’s defence of Aguero’s actions.
Tatjana Haenni, director of women’s football at the Swiss Football Association and formerly at football’s world governing body FIFA, said Aguero’s gesture merited at least a yellow card and, while probably not aggressive, it was patronising and sent the wrong message to women looking to enter the game.
“It’s exactly why women sometimes don’t feel comfortable in football,” she told Al Jazeera.
“Maybe that’s why we don’t have so many women in football because we are constantly told what to do, and how this works, and how this is – and we have to adapt to that environment.”
Haenni said far more women needed to be given roles as referees, coaches and in leadership positions in football’s governing bodies so that it becomes regarded as normal that women are in the game.
She added that a strong message on Saturday’s incident would be welcome from the player.
“If Aguero is such a nice guy, as Mr Guardiola says, he just needs to say ‘I’m sorry, that was stupid, I didn’t mean it and I will try to make it better, and I will respect women in football as well, I hope there will be more women in the game’.
“That would be a really great message from him.”