Around all the positives that we’ve covered in this The Grassroots Post, one of the things that we feel incredible strongly about is the issue of referee abuse, whether verbally, game to game, or in the very worst case, physical assault. Referees are crucial to the game and this trend needs to be understood and eradicated.
Dr Tom Webb from The University of Portsmouth, alongside his colleague Mike Rayner, Jamie Cleland from The University of South Australia and Jimmy O’Gorman from Edge Hill University researched this issue for their new book, Referees, Match Officials and Abuse.
The book has been published following years of research into referees and the abuse of match officials. Initially concentrating on the definition, prevalence and incidences of abuse towards match officials in sport, it also focuses on the responses of over 8,000 match officials from different sports and across different countries. It’s important to understand the challenges that match officials face in their line of work before we can start to move towards the consideration of solutions and policy implications.
The following chapters then consider the issues caused by match officials not reporting referee abuse to which they are subjected and how this can influence the decline of the number of match officials. We also focus on the need for positive environments for match officials, players, coaches and spectators, because these groups are interlinked in sport and any changes to the operational environment of sport should positively benefit all participants, no matter which group these changes are aimed towards.
The focus of the book then shifts to consider the importance of any policy change, and what this might look like in different sports. Most importantly, given the prevalence of referee abuse towards match officials in sport, we focus on the mental health and wellbeing of match officials, the impact of any abuse they may experience, and how interventions and changes to the support networks for match officials might positively influence their mental health and wellbeing.
The final two chapters of the book consider the experiences of match officials in countries outside England and the good practice that exists when tackling such referee abuse. Research into football referees in France and the Netherlands is considered and compared to findings across sports in England. There is also the consideration of abuse from other countries around the world through media reports, providing a full picture of the current landscape that exists for match officials. The final chapter focuses on areas of good practice from around the world. Organisations that have implemented policy and schemes to deal with the abuse of match officials have been identified and their policies and schemes are outlined here as examples of what can be done. Furthermore, the final chapter includes a ten-point plan designed to control abuse, increase support and improve the retention of match officials.
“The abuse of match officials is not an issue for one country or one sport; it is a growing concern across the world. However, the apparent reduction in the numbers of match officials, through reduced recruitment and retention, leaves many sports at a crossroads. Implementing change can take time, and time is a commodity that many governing bodies do not have when it comes to the declining numbers of match officials. Joined-up and collaborative approaches between sports is a starting point and should be encouraged. The book focuses on the need for action: one choice that is not acceptable is to do nothing.“
Buy Referees, Match Officials and Abuse – Research and Implications for Policy, here.