Abuse of referees, games at crisis


Markus Mukherjee

Referee Uniform and Equipment.

Markus Mukherjee, Staff Reporter

Referees are extremely important for sports, given that they are responsible for enforcing the rules. Unfortunately there has been a referee shortage affecting all youth sports. This has a major impact  because games get cancelled and take away the opportunity to compete from the athletes, also given that competitive sport is an important skill. 

After looking a little closer at this issue, it turns out the referee shortage isn’t a recent problem. This shortage has been going on for a long time but recently the problem has been getting more out of hand.

“As long as I have been around youth soccer – about eighteen years, getting people to ref has always been a challenge. However, it has gotten much worse since COVID,” California National Referee Association assignor Rich Godwin said.

What is the cause of the worsening referee shortage? Given that referees are the enforcers of the rules they also sometimes need to make controversial decisions that could determine the outcome of a game. Many times the fans and others involved in the game disagree with the decision and the referees face a lot of criticism. 

And repeated criticism and dissent can be extremely annoying and tiring. 

“The primary reason refs stop or do not come back is abuse. Abuse of refs from parents and coaches is much worse than before the COVID period. I have noticed that people are much angrier, less patient,”  Godwin said.

Logo of the CNRA organization (California North Referee Association)

Recently parents and others involved in sports have lost their patience causing a lot more altercations with referees to occur. Although this is the main reason for the shortage, other factors are also responsible for the shortage of referees.

Given that referees need to enforce the rules of a sport this requires them to actually know all the rules. This requires a lot of training and review in order to prove that they understand the rules and are ready to officiate a game. This requirement for referees is time consuming and can be difficult for some people to complete. Also, some courses require you to pay, which some people might not be able to afford. 

“Also with COVID and the break in sports, many refs left and did not return. Refs need to keep up their training, education and licences. During the times games were not being played a lot of refs did not want to bother to keep up or renew,” Godwin said. 

“It takes a lot of time and effort to get a licence and It is very annoying that you need to renew so often. It also requires you to pay some money for training and things like that,” sophomore Jack Spottiswood said. 

Being a referee requires a lot of skills like quick decision making, assertiveness and understanding the rules. It takes time for referees to develop these skills to get better at it. Usually younger referees need more time to improve their skills and more time to practice. In order to do this, referees need to referee more games in order to become more comfortable and get used to making quick decisions and have confidence in your decision. There is also no place for new referees to get more comfortable or get more experience.

 “The problem builds on itself. Less experienced and refs who are learning are facing more frustrated coaches etc,” Godwin said.

Refs have been assaulted and injured from angry spectators or coaches. Refs also face a lot of verbal abuse which has a huge effect on your mental health especially if you are a younger ref who have a physical disadvantage when conflicting with adults or people involved in the game who are older than them. This can also discourage young referees to put themselves out there and ref more games in order to become more comfortable. Younger referees who are less confident and experienced deal with alterations worse and it will affect them a lot more than a more experienced referee. This causes many young referees to either quit or ref less games.

“A few weeks ago we had a visiting team coach go berserk after a penalty was called against the coaches team. The ref crew was fourteen and fifteen years old.” This is a particularly young referee team, with not as much experience and confidence to deal with difficult situations as an older referee. “The coach threatened them after the game and followed them into the parking lot, bullying, harassing, and physically challenging one of them,”  Godwin said. 

This is a terrifying experience especially for younger referees. It is because of situations like this that the referee shortage is worsening. There are many other examples of referees being harassed or having bad experiences with spectators or coaches. For example, Jack Spottiswood, a sophomore at Sequoia and referee, had an experience where a spectator wanted to physically hurt him. And this happens all too often, where spectators or coaches believe that the referee’s decision was wrong and cost them the game and they let their frustration out with violence.

“I was refereeing a game for the third time ever and I was feeling pretty nervous. I was the assistant referee on the parents’ side, and while I was running up and down the sideline one of the parents tripped me because they disagreed with one of my calls,” Sophomore Jack Spottiswood said. “It didn’t really affect me but I can definitely see that it could affect other referees, especially young inexperienced ones,”

The shortage is affecting other jobs related to youth soccer like coaches giving them more responsibilities. A coach’s job is to create tactics and choose the right players in order to win the game. Recently with the worsening referee shortage they have had to reschedule games, or look for alternatives for someone to referee the game. This gives the coaches a lot more work, and also affects the most important part of a coaches job. 

“Firstly, there has been a tremendous push by referee organisations to recruit young referees from soccer programs. This has been the case for a number of years, but the effort recently has been amplified quite a bit, and it hasn’t been a proactive measure….more out of sheer necessity,” Sequoia High School Varsity soccer Coach, Gregory Markoulakis said.

Because of the shortage, many referees are reffing the same teams over and over again which can be negative because referees can start to gain bias against or for some teams or players.

“Secondly, we are not seeing as much consistency with the different referee teams that preside over matches. The distances that referees are travelling to cover games has increased overall. All these points converge to make it more difficult for the coach to do [their] job,” Markoulakis said. 

There are tactics being used to address and reduce the amount of conflicts with referees. Leagues and teams are sending out emails to parents and coaches involving the behavioural expectations and that the officials should be treated with respect but it seems that these tactics aren’t as effective as people hoped. The organisations around the nation are not giving up, they continue to brainstorm ideas and keep trying to spread awareness about the referee shortage and how the sports community can help and make the referees feel more comfortable. Especially in the Bay Area, many teams and clubs are working very hard to stop this shortage from worsening. 

“It will last a long time. I do not see it getting better nationally for some time. That’s why we are focused on fixing what we can here,”  Godwin said.