26 July 2022

Brawl highlights crisis within Canberra football refereeing ranks

| Evelyn Karatzas
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Football brawl

Screenshot of the confrontation between the under-23 men’s teams at Deakin Stadium last Saturday (23 July). Photo: Supplied.

A brawl at Deakin Stadium over the weekend that resulted in the cancellation of a football game in the 80th minute has highlighted the dangers to referees overseeing community sport and the challenge of attracting match officials, especially in the ACT.

One referee told Region the on-field incident involved up to 10 players from the under-23s men’s teams and was an example of the stressful conditions officials were placed under.

“The referee went, you know what, no one’s safe out here, and that’s enough,” the referee said. “That tells you there are issues with the culture and what’s going on.

“It was a very nasty incident, and I am hoping the player that was involved is okay. Then obviously, there’s the impact on the referee.

“No referee wants to deal with violence. You don’t go out there on a weekend and want to have to break up a brawl and see someone get sucker punched.”

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In a written statement, Capital Football said it was aware of an incident during the under-23 match between Canberra Croatia and West Canberra Wanderers on Saturday, 23 July.

“Capital Football does not condone violence in any way,” the statement said.

“Initial suspensions will be imposed based on the match officials’ reports and consideration will be given to further charges after a detailed investigation.”

It’s the latest incident marring a difficult season for Capital Football that has already seen two matches postponed in the past fortnight because of a shortage of referees.

The referee crisis was flagged almost 12 months ago when referees claimed a culture of abuse was driving people away.

However, in a written directive, they have been told not to talk to the media about the issues.

“If you speak to any referees at the moment, none of us will speak publicly,” one said.

“There’s some stuff going on and it’s just not appropriate for any of us to speak on the record with our names.”

Capital Football CEO Chris Gardiner said an NPL women’s game between Canberra United Academy and Tuggeranong United, and a CPL men’s game between Tuggeranong United and Canberra White Eagles had to be postponed because of a lack of appropriately qualified match officials, but he said a number of factors were at play.

“Capital Football is aware that we are facing very significant challenges for refereeing and referee coverage in Canberra, whilst the challenge facing referee retention and recruitment is multifaceted,” Mr Gardiner said.

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“The key issues in terms of recruitment and retention include what referees continue to experience at matches in terms of player, team official and spectator conduct, low referee fees (by comparison with other Member Federations and in terms of hourly rates for weekend work in other sectors), significant loss of junior referees not progressing into senior ranks, the decision of many older referees not to continue and the need to invest in support and training for club CVOs [club vested officials] and referee coordinators.

“Availability of officials has also, of course, been impacted by the COVID pandemic and continues to be so.”

Capital Football said it was taking the issues very seriously.

“Whilst it does not help address immediate club frustrations with game coverage, in response to these issues, the CEO is developing actions to be announced in the next several days and a plan for 2023 to address the multiple factors impacting refereeing numbers, qualifications and availability.”

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One long-time Capital Football referee said there simply weren’t enough referees to cover competitions.

“Matters such as COVID, numerous abuse incidents that have not been dealt with anywhere near appropriately and a lack of respect coming from some of the participants in football, has led to a very poor matchday experience for a lot of referees,” the referee said.

“Referees are not comfortable in being in the environment and to go out and stand on a field for 90 minutes only to get yelled at or go home and read horrible things about themselves on social media.

“That’s the environment we’re currently in and, as a refereeing body, we are desperately trying to change the culture around what’s taking place and we are very open to having conversations with people to help them understand.”

The referee said although Capital Football had launched a RESPECT campaign and proposed rules to endorse change, people who weren’t referees did not appreciate or understand the pressures associated with the job.

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Most referees officiate between two and four games every weekend.

“Although we get paid to do it, a lot of us also become referees because we love the challenge and the skills we build,” one said.

However, the abuse was a deal-breaker.

“If you can sit there and criticise and abuse referees, pick up a flag and do it yourself,” the referee said.

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Macquariephil7:22 pm 31 Jul 22

My son referred for several years, including a brawl in a Women’s, State League 4 match at Calwell a couple of years ago.

Although on a good day he enjoyed officiating, he gave up due to abuse and lack of support. I am aware that Capital has since taken steps to provide more support. However young referees need authoritative support on the sidelines.

The pay is nowhere near enough for the aggravation. Sadly, football is already horrendously expensive, and the game is seriously mismanaged. So, who would pay for improved pay and support?

mark wetherspoon9:21 am 27 Jul 22

I was at the game and saw the fight right in front of where I was sitting with my son. He is a u18 NPL player and a new Ref as well. Two comments are that the initial punch was inexcusable no question. The other was that I think the game started to degenerate right from the kick off as there was a lack of presence on the field from the Ref who was otherwise doing a great job in a spiteful game. Having said that there is no excuse for anyone arguing or disputing on field decisions ever! But also in this particular game it wasn’t the Ref’s decisions rather the players attitudes to each other which were the problem. The free kick which started the brawl was obvious and a very good decision.
As to a lack of Refs, my son wants to Ref more but trying to fit it in with his playing is proving almost impossible because capital football aren’t flexible in assigning games. He has to register to Ref with one club only – Woden in our case – and there does not seem any avenue for him to gain experience as a assistant ref on senior games or other leagues like girls, masters etc. Communication is difficult and I have noticed a lack of PD for the younger Refs. I am afraid that at this rate he will give up on Refing due to a lack of opportunity rather than anything else as so far he has had a great experience in his games.

Masters would love to see more refs available, but Capital Football won’t let a junior referee run a senior game – and I’d have to say not all masters games are played in a spirit of fair play as much as we’d like to think otherwise, but in the O55’s league I think there could be consideration for up and coming older junior refs at that pace of the game, O45/55 Masters are often left to ref their own games which means a player who has paid rego to play has to instead referee. I’m sure the more senior junior refs looking for experience would be welcomed, not sure CF will change their mind on the junior ref/senior games though.

Peter Driscoll9:17 pm 26 Jul 22

Canberra Croatia Football Club has had trouble with discipline for a long time. When my son was playing against them in an under 10’s game, their coach was abusive to his players and the officials. That was 12 years ago and I was told then that it has been like that for a long time. No wonder kids grow up with no respect for officials and rival players.

I attend a lot of Capitol Football NPL1 and NPL Under 23 games. I am a qualified referee in all football codes and basketball. Six years ago I emailed CF about disgusting intimidatory behaviour against referees by a coach in a top level game. I received the same motherhood statements I just read in the article above. Every now and then CF tries a ‘no tolerance’ program…..sin binning players for dissent was one of them. The trouble is that CF doesn’t stick with the policy thinking that a few games will do and the players, coaches and fans will learn. WRONG! Dissent is ingrained in the soccer community globally. I watch many games where EVERY DECISION is disputed and rather than being dealt with summarily the referees and assistant referees are ‘trained’ to ‘communicate’ with players and ‘explain’ their decisions as though their justification for a decision will calm the irate dissenter and make for a better flowing game. It doesn’t. Consciously or subconsciously players and coaches are trying to get the referee to question his/her decision and lean their way next time. Referees have to stop trying to be rules explainers and counsellors to players who well know what they are doing. A whistle, hand signals, red and yellow cards with an absolute minimum of referee to player chat should re-establish authority and reduce poor behaviour by players, coaches and fans.

ChrisinTurner2:48 pm 26 Jul 22

Do you mean soccer?

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