Prosecutors in the Netherlands have charged three teenaged football players after the death of a linesman during a youth football competition.
Richard Nieuwenhuizen, 41, died on Monday hours after he was attacked following an Under-17 match in Almere, near Amsterdam on Sunday. He was officiating for the Buitenboys team, in which his son was playing.
Police arrested three players, two 15-year-olds and a 16-year-old, of the Nieuw Sloten Amsterdam youth team after the incident, in which the linesman fell to the ground.
Prosecutors announced on Tuesday they are charging the players with manslaughter, assault and public violence for alleged involvement in a vicious attack on the linesman.
Nieuwenhuizen collapsed after the attack and was taken to hospital where he fell into a coma. He died the following day.
The players, whose identities have not been released, will be arraigned on Thursday at a closed-door hearing.
Shock and grief
Prosecutors have released no details of a possible motive and Buitenboys club chairman Marcel Oost said the reason for the attack was not certain.
“We still don’t have a clear picture yet,” prosecution spokeswoman Brigit Haan told the AP news agency.
The deadly assault sent shock waves through the football-mad Netherlands, with the sports minister, football association and coach of the country’s most storied club, Ajax, expressing disbelief and discontent.
The Royal Netherlands Football Association on Tuesday said it was canceling all amateur football matches for the coming weekend as a mark of respect for Nieuwenhuizen.
Professional matches will go ahead, but players and officials will wear black armbands and observe a minute’s silence before kickoff.
“It is absolutely terrible that something like this can happen on a Dutch sports field,” Sports Minister Edith Schippers said.
The attack hit at one of the foundations of Dutch youth sport – the participation of parents. On any given weekend, at thousands of sports grounds across the Netherlands, parents are the engine that powers youth sport.
They volunteer for everything from brewing tea to marking out lines on fields and wielding whistles and flags as referees and linesmen.
Amsterdam alderman Eric van der Burg, whose portfolio in the city covers sports, said the team from Nieuw Sloten had been in trouble twice before, once for verbally abusing a referee and once when a player got into a fight with a spectator.
‘Mirror of society’
Even FIFA President Sepp Blatter weighed in on the national debate about how such an attack could happen.
“Football is a mirror of society and sadly, the same ills that afflict society – in this case violence – also manifest themselves in our game,” Blatter said in a statement.
“Nevertheless, I remain convinced that football – through the example set by the tireless efforts of people like Mr. Nieuwenhuizen – is a force for good, and we must continue to use its positive example to educate people against these wrongs.”
Nieuwenhuizen’s death came almost exactly a year after a Dutch amateur footballer fatally kicked a 77-year-old supporter following a match.
Amsterdam District Court last week sentenced the player, identified only as Silvester M. in line with Dutch privacy law, to three years imprisonment for kicking the supporter so hard in the chest that his spleen ruptured. He died of his injuries a month later.