8 June 2021

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

| Tim Gavel
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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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