Is abuse of match officials a problem at the grassroots level of Canberra sport?

Tim Gavel 23 September 2019 9

Young referees and umpires are walking away from sport.

In my time as a coach in junior sport over a number of years in Canberra, I have encountered many uncomfortable moments when you hear a comment from the crowd or playing group directed at the referee or umpire.

The comment is rarely if ever, complimenting the match official on his or her performance. Instead, it is often personal and at times downright vile as seemingly perfectly normal people take it upon themselves to offer a 15-year-old in charge of the game a free character reference.

My focus here is just on grassroots sport, not on the elite level, although you can imagine kids watching and learning from the football World Cup with players chasing the referee across the field when a decision goes against them.

It’s not as if sport in Canberra is not trying to eradicate the problem of abuse of match officials with signs at grounds telling players, coaches and parents that respect must be shown to match officials.

Some junior sports in Canberra have also introduced field marshals who move quickly to stamp out any bad behaviour before it gets out of hand, while many junior referees and umpires have their parents on the sidelines for support and somebody to confide in during games.

Many have suggested that abuse of match officials is confined to junior football; let me tell you that is far from the truth. I have witnessed dissension in junior rugby union, league, AFL, basketball and cricket. There have been plenty of times when I have seen spectators abusing officials, who are then chastised by fellow parents who curb the spectator’s behaviour. When kids show dissension they are replaced.

Sports such as hockey and netball don’t seem to have the same level of dissension towards match officials. That’s not to say there are not issues from time to time. Hockey has ground supervisors who look after the crowd while umpire mentors are on hand to provide guidance and support. Hockey has moved to ensure people involved in the sport are aware of the penalties that could be imposed if there are breaches.

At times, I must admit, I have wondered if there is a difference in the level of dissension between men’s and women’s sports.

From my experience, there appears to be significantly fewer problems with player, coach and spectator behaviour in women’s sports. Although I have witnessed several ugly incidents in junior girls’ sports over the years, in the majority of cases, it has related to the behaviour of parents and coaches more than anything else. Often, it’s an overly aggressive parent or coach yelling loudly in less than complimentary language from the sidelines.

Capital Football CEO Phil Brown put the issue of abuse of match officials in the spotlight a couple of weeks ago when he said that 45 per cent of referees aged between 18 and 30 had walked away from the sport in 2017-18 with abuse of referees one of the main reasons.

So what is the solution?

How do we stop people thinking that it’s okay to abuse match officials?

Ryan Grogan is the coach of the Canberra United Academy women’s football team. Having watched a few of their games, his side rarely shows dissent and there is next to no problems from the parent group watching from the sidelines.

Ryan says part of the Academy program includes educating players, parents and coaching staff on the need to respect the referee’s decision.

This was an eye-opener for me.

In my coaching days, I can’t remember ever calling meetings with the parents to ensure they understood the rules as well as ensuring they were respectful towards the referees and umpires. Not that I recall having any problems with parents in my teams but I would imagine that it would take a fair degree of courage to pull the parents into line given your kids are also in the team and it often takes in your social group.

I have spoken to many in Canberra sport over the past two weeks as the spotlight was shone on the issue.

Some have suggested more education of players, coaches and spectators, while another school of thought calls for greater penalties imposed on transgressors while others have told me the problems are not as bad as is being portrayed.

I strongly disagree that there is not a problem. When you have as many young referees walking away from football as we have had in the past 12 months, it’s obvious that there is a major issue.

The Canberra United Academy program is worth looking at, with parents being educated on the rules and respect for the referees. And this is clearly part of the problem; many supporters just don’t know the rules.

I also believe it is important for sports to lay down the law to ensure that if penalties for abuse are in place, that they are enforced. Sometimes the best cure is fellow spectators, players or coaches publicly bringing the troublemakers into line, but that is not always possible with a particularly aggressive parent or player.

We need to protect our match officials as we all know. If we didn’t have people willing to put their hands up to officiate, we wouldn’t have sport.

What's Your Opinion?

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9 Responses to Is abuse of match officials a problem at the grassroots level of Canberra sport?
stvn stvn 3:45 pm 30 Aug 18

I was a soccer referee from for about 7 years from when I was 15. I gave it up I was threatened during a game with “I’m going to f!@#$%g kill you ref.” This wasn’t the first time things had got heated and it is frightening – you are out there on your own, and few people if any bother to step in to help.

I really enjoyed refereeing and being part of the game in this way. But until others on the sideline step in, and until there is zero-tolerance for this behaviour (i.e. a life ban) I fear that change is unlikely.

justin heywood justin heywood 11:26 am 30 Aug 18

Sadly, Tim, I think all of us who silently witness this behaviour share the guilt.
I, like many, have witnessed some appalling abuse over the years, and said nothing. Like most people, I’d just like to get home without confronting some half-mad idiot.

We, as spectators, need to find the courage to speak up when we see abuse.

Jessica En Bee Jessica En Bee 5:28 pm 29 Aug 18

Netball are all over it here in Canberra with penalties. Basketball also. Zero tolerance. It’s hard when umpires/refs make errors or miss things but parents and kids have to be help accountable.

Kate Smith Kate Smith 3:19 pm 29 Aug 18

So junior premier league soccer certainly has a lot to answer for with comments to a 16 year old referee of ' who gave that bitch a whistle' and the club official removing their vest to join in the abuse at the end of the match......the club involved should know who they are and have taken action. This is just one incident in a single soccer season

Sport needs referees and we need to assure the safety of our referees

Stephen Matthews Stephen Matthews 1:19 pm 29 Aug 18

I remember watching my daughters ay netball in Wagga and over the pa came the message that a couple of ref's had been abused and if it happened once moor all games would be abandoned. I thought that was a great call

Anthony Fernance Anthony Fernance 12:03 pm 29 Aug 18

I was a basketball referee for 17 years and also a referee coach. I have also referred soccer and umpire softball for several years. Amongst officiating a few other spirts here and there. My son is now also a senior rugby league referee and my much younger brother also a soccer referee.

The most important factor is 100% support from the governing bodies for the referees. Quite often the referee heads to a judiciary with only there own report. And maybe another officials report if they were close enough to hear or see the incident. The evidence is then weighed up against the opinion of an unqualified biased defendant and possible other unqualified and biased witnesses and way too often the unqualified and biased opinions are listened too.

Some senior referees also including professional referees need to come to the party and stamp out the behaviour instead of accepting when 8 players mob him give them ALL a yellow card or put several in the bin for 10 minutes.

Referee education also needs improvement. I use to even teach new officials how to blow the whistle properly. Young beginners need qualified support on the sideline of every game this helps build there confidence and gives them the opportunity to improve with guidance. My son was lucky enough to have me there for a lot of his games knowing that I knew a lot about refereeing. To all officials out there if the crowd behaviour is poor stop the game and tell the ground manager to deal with it or the game will be called off. Don’t be afraid to call it off and put a report in to the governing body

    Anthony Fernance Anthony Fernance 4:17 pm 29 Aug 18

    One such situation I remember where the governing body show zero support of me as a fully qualified referee who mind you was the only person in the referee class to get 100% on my exam. I sent a player off in a semi final a red card for denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity. The southern tablelands football association decide to overturn the red card without even discussing it with me the reporting official with the response “there appears to be some doubt although we cannot find it” thankfully the Goulburn referees association appealed to nsw football who then overturned the stfa’s decision and admonish them.

Johanna Bahr Johanna Bahr 7:50 am 29 Aug 18

I manage an under 8s team and it is crazy how much the poor refs get abused by parents and coaches! A lot of them are just kids who are learning how to ref!

Tania Hall Tania Hall 7:30 am 29 Aug 18

Both my husband and 15 year old daughter are rugby league referees here in Canberra and the abuse is unbelievable.

It starts all the way from under 6s to A grade. The biggest problem is that these people do not see there is a problem with abusing officials.

A couple of months ago my daughter almost walked away from something she loves and has a great passion in because of verbal abuse from a club trainer. I will not allow my daughter to go to a field to referee alone.

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH it is time to start respecting our referees and umpires.

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