Soto: “Refereeing saved my life”

On the evening of 27 January 2015, Venezuelan FIFA referee Juan Soto completed his fitness training in Caracas when suddenly, upon entering his car, three armed men forced him to get in the back seat, thus beginning an incredible odyssey.
- What happened, Juan?
- Out of nowhere, something random that happens to many people happened to me. I trained on a field in Caracas and, as the area is of a certain level, they saw my car and thought they could get money or something valuable from me.
- What did they say?
- They were violent and always asking me for money. As they asked me for the money, I was beaten on the head with the butt of a gun. I told them I had no money and then they asked me to take them to my house. I told them that I live far away and they became very nervous.
- Did they threaten to kill you?
- Yes. They were not alone, as they communicated with others by telephone and other people were asking how things were going. In one of those exchanges, one said that I was armed or that I was in the army. I did not understand but they had found my army reservist card. They asked where my gun was.
- And what did you say?
- I told them that, if I had been armed, I or at least one of them would probably be dead because I was not going to surrender.
- How could you be so calm at a time like that?
- Today, remembering that all, I conclude that refereeing saved my life.
- In which way?
- We are constantly subjected to high stress, a lot of pressure. Each match is like that and you learn to not think of your surroundings and concentrate on your job. I am sure that everything that I learned in refereeing helped me save my life.
- What followed?
- I can only remember up to that point. Everything happened in about forty minutes, but I do not remember anything else until I was thrown into a ravine.
- They threw you into a ravine?
- Yes, it was about two in the morning. They tied my hands and feet… I was thrown like someone is thrown into a pool. There was another case where they killed the person in much the same circumstances. They threw him in almost the same place.
- How were you saved?
- A tow-truck passed by at the same time they tossed me out and the driver alerted the National Guard and the Guard alerted the firefighters and so I was found. When I felt that I was being moved, I opened my eyes and asked "Are you helping me?" The firemen said yes and asked me to be calm because they were there to help.
Juan Soto took an active part in the theoretical and practical work undertaken by the CONMEBOL elite referees in the recent course held in Santiago de Chile from 8 to 12 May 2015. In the closing ceremony, the president of the CONMEBOL Referees Committee, Carlos Alarcon, stressed his willpower and wished him a full and speedy recovery. We had seen Juan Soto these days training with his teammates. His commitment and enthusiasm impressed everyone. "Now I want to work. My family does not quite agreeing with me continuing as a referee, but after what happened it gives me great strength. Certainly, refereeing saved my life and now I want to recover physically, psychologically and spiritually".