On Tuesday August 2, 2011 in Atlanta (USA), the NASO (National Association of Sports Officials) Gold Whistle Award was given to my friend Esse Baharmast (FIFA Referee Technical Instructor), in recognition of his significant contributions to the betterment of sports officials. It’s the first time ever that a soccer referee receives this prestigiuos award (former honorees were from NFL; MLB, NBA, and NHL only).
Esse may have no equal when it comes to soccer officiating in the United States. Among his accomplishments are working the 1993 World University Games, 1994 Pan American Games, and the 1996 CONCACAF Gold Cup. He officiated the inaugural MLS game in 1996. He also officiated three games at the 1996 Olympics, becoming the only American referee to officiate an Olympic semifinal (Argentina-Portugal). He is perhaps most well known for a call in the final minute of a match in the 1998 World Cup between Brazil and Norway. While TV broadcasts could not see it clearly, Baharmast whistled a foul in the penalty area as a player for Brazil grabbed one of his opponents. Baharmast was criticized heavily in the media until a Swedish TV film clearly showed he was correct. At that World Cup, he became the only American referee to ever take charge of two matches at the World Cup level. Upon retiring from the field, Esse has served both U.S. Soccer and FIFA in an administrative role. He currently works for FIFA as the technical instructor in charge of elite referees from CONCACAF and Oceania confederations. He also served two terms on the NASO Board of Directors and has continued to be involved with the organization for a number of years.