Refereeing on the world stage: Canberra referee Ben Williams reflects upon his career

Tim Gavel 8 June 2021 19
Ben Williams

Since retiring from refereeing, Ben Williams is now enjoying teaching PE at the UC High School, Kaleen. Photo: Tim Gavel.

The most emotional, crazy game in the history of the Asian Cup occurred at Canberra Stadium in 2015. Ben Williams was officiating.

The AFC quarter-final between arch-rivals Iran and Iraq saw Ben issue 12 yellow cards and one red. The game was decided in a penalty shoot-out.

Ben Asian Cup

Ben providing friendly refereeing advice during an Asian Cup game in 2015. Photo: Supplied.

The emotion overflowed from the pitch to the keyboard warriors on social media and Ben was targeted.

“I’m not on social media, but my wife is, and there were death threats made against my wife and child. She didn’t feel safe,” says Ben.

That is just one game in a career of many highlights, but if nothing else, it reinforces the pressure faced by top-level sporting officials.

He retired in 2016. He made the decision one day as he was saying goodbye to his family to travel to an A-League game in Sydney. It was becoming harder and harder to say those goodbyes and the constant travel was taking its toll.

Consequently, 2016 marked the end of a 25-year career in the sport as an official.

The journey to that point started when he was just 15 years of age, living in Kambah.

“I did an officiating course at school during activities week. The teacher that ran the course, Chris Conti, encouraged me to go further, so I started refereeing juniors doing three or four games a week.”

His career went from there, refereeing domestically and overseas, with highlights including the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, the Asian Cup and the Olympics.

Ben referring Costa Rica versus Greece

Ben referring Costa Rica versus Greece in the round of 16 at the FIFA World Cup, Brazil. Photo: Supplied.

At the 2014 World Cup, he became the first Australian to referee a knockout match. This came off the back of being named the Asian Football Confederation referee of the year in 2013.

Strangely enough, he was never called upon to referee an A-League Grand Final, despite being the top official in the country.

He has to deal with plenty during his career, including a concerted media campaign, which Ben says propagated a certain amount of hate directed towards him from within Australia. Beyond Australia, though, he had always been treated with the utmost respect.

Integrity, he says, is the key.

“Integrity is the currency. People need people to trust, and I can clearly say my integrity was never bought.”

Not that there weren’t attempts to do so.

“During lots of trips overseas, there were bags of stuff left on my hotel room door. They were handed in straight away. We had lots of presentations from Interpol. What I learnt was that they go for the players first, then the referees.”

Now at 44 years of age and long retired from the world stage, he has made some cameos refereeing Masters games in Canberra.

Ben Williams officiating

Ben Williams has officiated at the World Cup, the Asian Cup, and the Olympics. Photo: Supplied.

Fully entrenched as a Physical Education teacher at UC High School Kaleen, Ben instils in his students the same view of integrity that was the backbone of his career.

“I work from the principle that we all need to look after each other and be kind as we never know what the other person is going through,” Ben says.

“By seeking understanding of everyone else’s perspectives, we gain empathy, and that empathy brings us all together. I see that mindset as a key ingredient for the integrity of sport and maintaining the fabric of a society of which we are very proud.”

The UC High School students couldn’t have a better guide.

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19 Responses to Refereeing on the world stage: Canberra referee Ben Williams reflects upon his career
Melissa Wells Melissa Wells 10:29 pm 14 Jun 21

Ben was one of my teachers at Melba High in 2004/5. Such a genuine and caring teacher! Had no idea about this, but when is a teenager ever interested in anyone but themselves! Love this so much, congrats on an awesome career!! 👊

Sophie Stoddard Sophie Stoddard 6:40 pm 14 Jun 21

Taught me maths for a bit. 👌🏻👌🏻

Stephen Wadwell Stephen Wadwell 4:17 pm 14 Jun 21

Here you go Rory Wadwell

    Rory Wadwell Rory Wadwell 6:21 pm 14 Jun 21

    Stephen Wadwell you were very fortunate to have him as a mentor for your refereeing.

Tom Brand Tom Brand 3:48 pm 14 Jun 21

Christopher James Clarke The legend himself

Daniel Pickering Daniel Pickering 11:56 am 14 Jun 21

Legend. Taught me at Melba high back in the day. A great mentor!

Ramon Montero Ramon Montero 10:00 am 14 Jun 21

I do remember him when started arbitrate football, indeed very polite and educated a young person. I had the privilege to meet him when he commences his football referee. Well done Ben...

Kacey Butterworth Kacey Butterworth 10:34 pm 13 Jun 21

I feel extremely privileged to have had Ben as a mentor, teacher and year co-ordinator throughout my high school years.

He taught me many valuable life lessons, guided me through some difficult times but mostly, helped path me to be the person I am today.

Fantastic guy, good on you Ben.

Annamaria Zuffo Annamaria Zuffo 7:55 pm 13 Jun 21

Fantastic Ben. Lucky kids and us for knowing you.

Vicki Favelle Vicki Favelle 7:47 pm 13 Jun 21

Thank you Ben for being the teacher that you are. We will always be so grateful that you taught our Charlie. An amazing teacher.

Ellie Marks Ellie Marks 7:46 pm 13 Jun 21

Awesome teacher! Fantastic Ref! Good bloke all around!

Nicole Thorne Nicole Thorne 7:37 pm 13 Jun 21

my boys love this man. Thank you Ben for all that you do

Lizzie Avery Lizzie Avery 7:29 pm 13 Jun 21

Great story Ben!

Ken Beck Ken Beck 7:04 pm 13 Jun 21

I’ve been fortunate enough to be an official along side Ben, he was a gentleman, both on and off the field, the players respected him as well.

Penny McCallum Penny McCallum 6:44 pm 13 Jun 21

Glad I saw this Ben. You are an excellent example for everyone to try to copy. 👏

Kristy Neilson Kristy Neilson 6:23 pm 13 Jun 21

Well done Ben. You certainly achieved a lot in your sporting career. Your students are lucky to have such a dedicated teacher👏🏻⚽️

Anthony Beck Anthony Beck 6:01 pm 13 Jun 21

Ben was a mentor to me back in the day, well done champ!!!👍

Elspeth Shannon Rollason Elspeth Shannon Rollason 5:22 pm 13 Jun 21

Go Benny

Jenny Gordon Avery Jenny Gordon Avery 4:05 pm 13 Jun 21

Along with Ben's great achievements on the sporting field his achievements as a teacher and year coordinator have impacted kids under his care positively for many years. Both our kids were fortunate to have Ben in their teacher/year coordinator cohort. Congrats Ben on all of your achievements.

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