The shocking footage last month of a Brazilian sixth tier player William Ribeiro kicking a referee in the head after he awarded a free kick against him brought instant condemnation from around the globe. He was arrested after the game was abandoned and has subsequently been charged with attempted murder. The player also had his contract with Sport Club Sao Paulo terminated, and I would not be at all surprised if he has banned from playing football for the rest of his life.
The broader point
It does, however, raise a more troubling question about violence against referees. Research in 2002 suggested that 64% of match officials claimed to have frequently experienced verbal aggression, followed by threats (36%). In 2018, a referee in an Irish amateur football match had their jaw broken in an assault following a match. In 2019, amateur referees threatened to go on strike due to the abuse from players and parents, with Charity Ref Support UK saying officials have been spat at, had cars trashed and been threatened with rape and violence — with one case involving weapons.
While various leagues have taken strong stances in violence against officials, it doesn’t always translate. The NFL said the following in 2017:
This is the time of year when emotions run high as the push for the postseason is in full swing. Let us remember to uphold the highest standards of professionalism and sportsmanship, especially when it comes to taking care of one another, respecting the officials, the fans, and our great game.
We want to keep our players on the field. No one wants a penalty or an ejection to determine the outcome of a game. In recent weeks, however, there have been several suspensions and ejections because of contact with, and conduct toward, our game officials.
Examples include players getting in the faces of officials to dispute calls, penalty flags thrown into the crowd, and officials being verbally disparaged as they leave the stadium. One official even sustained a significant injury during a fight between players on the field.
This is not who we are — as players, as clubs, as the NFL. Going forward, any offensive contact or conduct — physical or otherwise — with an official will result in significant discipline.
The NFL’s policy prohibiting offenses against officials applies to all game day locations, including the playing field, bench area, tunnels, parking lots, and other stadium passageways. We will continue to emphasize enforcement of unsportsmanlike conduct rules with our officiating crews, and they will be encouraged to disqualify players for any offenses directed at them. Such offenses may also result in fines, and/or suspensions.
Please review this memo with your players and members of your coaching staff prior to your next game.Troy Vincent, NFL executive vice president of football operations
No sport is guilty of this problem – the fact that an article outlining the “20 Worst Cases of Ref Abuse in Sports” in 2011 exists is a significant problem.
Mental Health Problems
A study from Spain suggested that smiling and not reacting to insults at a personal level were the best coping messages for referees.
However, the fact that some sporting associations are refusing to let teenagers referee fixtures any more for the sake of their physical, mental and emotional health is extremely concerning.
This is not the only incident, as reported on the BBC here.
The fact that many referees for community sports are volunteers does not seem to stop the abuse from flowing. More often than not, the abuse comes from those who do not care about the referee. The referee is not seen as a person but as a robot that is supposed to make the right decision at all times or at least the right decision for your side.
I would never want to be a referee – my mental health (let alone my physical health) simply could not handle the voluminous amounts of abuse that would be heaped upon me. A friend of mine has done so for community football, and I’ve watched him run as much as the players, if not more. I’ve also seen him do two games, back to back – one as the match referee and the next as the linesman (it might have been the other way round, but he is still fit AF). Fortunately, he is well respected among the local community, as many of the local referees are.
You don’t have to agree with the referees – groaning is fine (trust me, I’ve groaned at plenty of referees). Remember that they are human, they have feelings too. Do they really deserve to have scorn heaped upon them? Do they need to be abused for making a decision?
There is no reason for that behaviour – we all know it.
Pull your head in, and don’t let your emotions destroy a young person’s life.
What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.