The experienced 41-year-old German FIFA referee Babak Rafati was found by his assistant referees in the bathtub of his Cologne hotel on Saturday afternoon, just a few hours before he was supposed to take charge of the Bundesliga match between Mainz and Cologne.
At 13:30, his assistant referees Holger Henschel, Patrick Ittrich and fourth official Frank Willenborg recognized his absence at the pre-match meeting at the Hyatt Hotel. Due to the fact that Rafati did not react when they knocked on his room's door, a service man broke up the door. They found Rafati lying in the bath tub streaming with blood. He had slit his wrists. Parts of some kind of farewell letter have been found but have not been analyzed yet. The assistants did everything they were able to in order to help Rafati, who was immediately taken into the hospital, where medicines fought for his life for hours. Cologne police spokesman Andre Fassbender said there was "no sign of any involvement by a third party" and "it certainly looks like" a suicide attempt.
The father of German referee Babak Rafati, who tried to kill himself hours before officiating a Bundesliga match, said on Sunday that his son had seemed happy in the days leading up to his attempted suicide. “He had a steady job as a banker and was in a stable relationship. He never spoke to me about depression or burn-out. If he had done that, I would have reacted," his father, Djalal Rafati, told Cologne newspaper Express. On Saturday evening, Djalal spoke to his son for the first time since the suicide attempt. "He just said, 'Dad, forgive me for what I have done' and I replied, 'of course, but now you have to recover first'." Djalal said his son was happy in his relationship. "He had been together with his girlfriend for many years and was happy with her, she does everything for him and is a great woman. As far as I am concerned, that has nothing to do with what happened," he said.
Babak Rafati has been a referee for the German federation since 1997 and a top-division referee since 2005. He has taken charge of 84 Bundesliga matches and has been a FIFA referee since 2008. Rafati will be removed from Germany's FIFA List of referees at the end of this year, after he had been voted three times the worst referee in Bundesliga by the German football magazine Kicker.
Lawyer Sven Menke said in a statement that doctors treating Rafati diagnosed him with depression. Rafati believes that the first symptoms surfaced about 18 months ago and they have since intensified, Menke added. "In Mr. Rafati's personal perception, growing pressure to perform for him as a referee and the media pressure linked to that - in combination with the constant fear of making mistakes - became a bigger and bigger burden,'' he wrote. "A burden that, at some point, made even everyday problems seen insoluble and which, in the end, he no longer felt able to cope with". Menke said that Rafati has decided to "deal openly with the illness and face it.'' Once he has been through therapy, he "wants to be able to return to his normal life, as a referee too", the lawyer added.
The incident shocked German football and came two years after Hannover and Germany goalkeeper Robert Enke, who suffered from depression, committed suicide by stepping in front of a train on 10 November 2009. In September 2011, Ralf Rangnick abruptly stepped down as coach of Schalke because of burnout, only six months after taking charge of the club.
The Cologne - Mainz match was postponed as a result of Rafati's suicide attempt. It has been rescheduled for 13 December 2011.