In Depth

Football’s red card: would body cameras on referees stop the abuse?

Study reveals 60% of English officials have been subjected to verbal abuse

Match officials in England are seven times more likely to be verbally abused than in France and Holland.

The Daily Telegraph reports the findings of a comprehensive study into the football culture of the three nations and it makes for uncomfortable reading for the Football Association (FA).

Describing the study as the biggest of its kind, the Telegraph says that it compared how officials are treated in the three countries and found “stark differences”.

For instance, only 2.2% of referees in Holland said that they been subjected to verbal abuse on a regular basis. In France the figure was 14.4%, but in England it was a staggering 60%.

Physical and verbal hostility

There were similar discrepancies when referees were asked if they had never received any verbal abuse. In Holland 44.8% of referees said they hadn’t encountered any hostility, in France 30.3%, but in England only 6% of officials said they have never been verbally abused.

As for physical abuse, 19% of English officials have been on the receiving end, compared to 16% in France and 14.6% in Holland.

Caught on camera?

The research team was led by Dr Tom Webb, at the University of Portsmouth, and will be published later this month in the Uefa Direct magazine.

The Telegraph says the findings have “prompted calls for the Football Association to urgently step up its Respect campaign”.

Among options that could be considered by the FA to tackle the problem are the introduction of a points sanctions rather than just fines for repeat offenders and the wearing of body cameras by referees.

The Telegraph says that “officials believe that cameras, similar to those worn by police officers, would deter offenders and ensure cases of serious abuse could be proved”.

Show some respect

Reacting to the findings, Martin Cassidy, chief executive of Ref Support, said: “This valuable research shows that we must tackle the attitude that referees are somehow fair game.

“The Respect campaign just slowly disappeared. We need preventative measures to tackle the abuse and threatening of referees. It’s almost a social norm. So much more can be done, rather than just reacting to what happens.”

FA claims it is on the case

The FA countered some of the claims made in the findings, pointing to a reported 45% reduction in proven referee assaults and saying that in 850,000 matches played in grassroots football only 0.01% involved a proven assault case against a match official.

“We have a number of interventions to tackle abuse in all its forms including more funding to mentoring programmes, which support referees and clearer standardised procedures for County FAs,” said an FA spokesperson.

“Our recent relaunch of Respect, under the ‘We Only Do Positive’ banner, is focused on improving the behaviour of coaches and parents, whilst the introduction of temporary dismissals, or sin bins, at step seven and below of the national league system resulted in a 38% reduction in dissent.”

Refs feel disenfranchised

But Dr Webb believes more must be done by the FA. “We found a lack of reporting of the incidents because the support networks are perceived to be lacking and the disciplinary processes are viewed as flawed,” he told the Telegraph.

“There is an issue and we hope that there can be a focus now on solutions. We found referees do feel disenfranchised and I think referees will question why their situation does not seem to be addressed in the newly released Respect documentation.”

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