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Alleged assault on soccer ref leads to 15-year ban

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The Manitoba Soccer Association has handed out a 15-year suspension to a player charged in the assault of a referee.

Branko Dukic, 29, has been charged with assault causing bodily harm. He’s assumed innocent and scheduled to appear in court on July 30.

Dukic has also been fined $250 by the MSA.

The altercation happened on May 29, at a game between Winnipeg Croatia and Galatasaray United, during a Manitoba Major Soccer League match at the Vince Leah Recreation Centre on Salter Street.

Witnesses said a player for Winnipeg Croatia, who was upset at being given a yellow card, argued on the field and taunted the 56-year-old referee to give him a second yellow card.

The player then attacked the referee, who was reaching into his pocket to pull out the second card. According to witnesses, the player punched the referee in the jaw and kicked him twice as the referee lay unconscious on the ground. The referee suffered a concussion and was taken to hospital by ambulance.

An off-duty Winnipeg police officer involved in another game nearby came over to detain the player. Another police unit later arrived and arrested the man.

Héctor Vergara, executive director of the Manitoba Soccer Association, which gave out the ban, declined to comment until July 16, "once the MSA process has been completed," but confirmed the length of the ban.

Lou Guffei, second vice-president of the MMSL, and senior soccer representative of the MSA, said while the ban is not an outright lifetime ban, effectively that’s what it will mean.

"After (15) years of not playing, he probably has no desire of playing it anymore…" Guffei said.

Dukic also apologized verbally and in writing to the referee, which the referee accepted, but the intent and intensity of the event were more important in the decision, Guffei said.

The minimum ban Dukic could have received for what allegedly happened is for one year, but in this case it was important to the MSA to send a message that this kind of behaviour is not acceptable, Guffei said. He said the ban is a just decision.

"They don’t want to see it repeated… you have to send a message this is not what his game is about… You don’t go after a referee, you don’t punch him, none of that is acceptable" he said.

Xxavier Barra, 21, who plays for Galatasaray United, was on the field about a metre away when the alleged incident took place, and said Monday the suspension was what he had been hoping for.

"It had to be harsh. It had to sent precedent… It was long enough that now you have to realize that it’s not acceptable," Barra said.

The situation had been tense during the game, Barra said, and he thought something might happen, though not as severe as what occurred.

"At times in the game it was escalating and I told the ref that something might happen, but I never expected that. I was completely in shock," he said.

Barra was also at the disciplinary hearing and said Dukic was remorseful.

"He’s a referee himself… (but) obviously you can only say sorry so many times, now you have to actually show you’re sorry," he said.

In soccer, a yellow card is a caution but a player who is shown a second yellow card in the same game is shown a red card and sent off immediately. Red cards carry an automatic ejection from the game.

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