Collina turns in his whistle

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src=' ' class='caption'> Pierluigi Collina, the world's most recognised soccer official announced yesterday that he has decided to resign from Italy's referees association

updated: February 25, 2007 10:48 IST
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Pierluigi Collina is turning in his whistle. The world's most recognised soccer official announced yesterday that he has decided to resign from Italy's referees association in the face of a business conflict. Collina recently signed a sponsorship deal with car manufacturer Opel, the main sponsor of AC Milan. Conflict of interest Soccer officials said the agreement caused a conflict of interest and ordered the bald-headed referee to end the arrangement or quit. "It's something I never thought I would do, but I can't do otherwise today," Collina said, trying hard to keep his emotions in check while reading a statement at a news conference in his hometown of Viareggio. "I thought (the sponsorship) could be accepted and understood." Collina acknowledged, however, that he was wrong to accept the deal, saying the mistake had ended a 28-year refereeing career. "Respecting the rules is fundamental for me. It was an error. I should have respected the rules," said Collina. Italy's referees association governs all levels of soccer in Italy. If Collina is not persuaded to change his mind, he will be barred from officiating Italian league and cup matches. Referees association president Tullio Lanese said he would try and reject Collina's resignation. "In the next few days we will contact Collina and see what he decides," Lanese said, according to the ANSA news agency. "He's a referee that everyone admires. Unfortunately there exists a rule and it has to be respected." "I hope he stays in the association, not necessarily to continue refereeing, but I would like him to remain inside the association," added Lanese, who has previously mentioned Collina for the job of choosing which referees officiate which matches after he retires. Loss for football While the Italian Soccer Federation said it was not clear if Collina could continue working European matches, his resignation was being treated as a complete one in Italy. "I don't think the honesty of a referee is affected by a sponsor," Juventus coach Fabio Capello said. "He's an honest man of sport. It's a loss for world soccer." Collina ruled out going abroad to referee. "I didn't become a referee for the money. If I had chosen money, I would probably have already gone abroad," he said. Collina has officiated four finals in top international competitions: the 1996 Olympics, the 1998-99 Champions League, the 2002 World Cup and last season's UEFA Cup. His last match was a Champions League qualifier between Villarreal and Everton last week. Exemption granted Collina had been granted an exemption to continue refereeing in Italy this season, even though he reached the league's age limit of 45 in February. "I slept less last night than the eve of the World Cup final," Collina said. Collina considered a proposal that he referee only second-division games this season, but said that would not be an adequate solution. "The problem is if you believe in the referees or not. Without faith in the referee, it's useless to go forward," he said, adding that a similar conflict in England has not gained the same type of attention he is receiving. "No one is permitted to cast doubts on the fact that Chelsea, sponsored by Emirates, won the Premier League in a year when English referees were sponsored by the same company," Collina said. Advertising spat His deal with Opel-General Motors is reportedly worth USD 1.23 million. Collina was also the subject of a spat at the 2002 World Cup, when he appeared in an advertisement for German sportswear manufacturer Adidas. He then took charge of the final between Adidas-sponsored Germany and Nike-sponsored Brazil. "A business can sponsor my shoes, never my conscience," Collina said at the time. (AP)