Lay off the refs


Referees are an endangered species in sport and it’s about time they got the respect they deserved.
The last couple of Saturdays, I’ve ventured along to watch Donald Gray Cup premier men’s football action in Invercargill – that’s soccer if you’re confused- and have been astonished at the level of verbal abuse directed at the referee from both players and spectators.
It was so bad at a game two weeks ago, even the rugby folk who were playing on the adjacent field, noticed what was going on and spoke out about it following the game.
Unfortunately, referee abuse is nothing new.
It’s doesn’t just go on in Southland football, but all over New Zealand. Football is not exempt to the problem either. It occurs in every sport and all levels of the game, right down to children’s grades.
I’ve seen and heard a lot of referee abuse during my football playing days and sports journalism career and believe it’s time to get tough on the repeat offenders, who ruin it for everyone and give the sport a bad name.
The nature and tone of the comments I’ve heard uttered at football referees during the past few weeks has been disappointing to say the least, and it’s up to everyone involved to join together, and remedy the situation.
The recruitment and retention of football referees is a big problem in not only Southland, but also New Zealand. Southland has 12 qualified football referees and if things persist that number will only shrink.
With playing numbers on the rise in the province, Southland Football is desperate for more whistleblowers, and unless they start getting better treatment, teams will have to referee themselves in the future.
I think it’s important to sit back and consider a few points.
Referees are volunteers, who give up their Saturday afternoon, so we can all enjoy ourselves and play the game we love.
With the number of football officials so low in Southland, assistant referees have not been used in the Donald Gray premier competition this season. That means referees not only have to watch what’s going on around the ball, but also keep an eye out for offsides. If you’ve tried doing that, it’s an extremely difficult job, and one I don’t envy in the slightest.
We all get passionate in the heat of battle and want to win, but sometimes people need to remember it’s club football, not an FA Cup or Champions League final.
Referees will be the first to admit, they’re only human and are going to miss things from time to time.
New Zealand Football took strong measures in 2009, after several unsavoury instances, to try and improve behaviour at all levels of the game. NZF adopted the the Football Association’s  ‘RESPECT’ programme, to help grow the fair play ethos and reinforce the message of respect for match officals.
Players, parents, coaches and referees are asked to sign New Zealand Football’s code of conduct, with clear breaches of the code of conduct, resulting in sactions.
NZF are also looking at a new concept, where clubs would be refunded affiliation fees if they have the least points for misconduct in their league (yellow/red cards would be assigned points), which I believe would be a welcome move.
It’s up to all football clubs in Southland, the players, and spectators to take accountability for their own actions, and be more courteous towards the referee.
Many Southland clubs already do a superb job of this and they should be applauded, but there is definitely room for improvement by everyone. If someone at your club or on your team is letting the side down, don’t be scared to speak out and tell them it’s unacceptable.
I’ve always been a big fan of the idea that the captain is the one who speaks to the referee out on the pitch. If the other players have a concern they wish to air, they should talk to their skipper, who will in turn deal with the referee. It’s a good simple way of ensuring 22 footballers aren’t yelling at the referee during the game.
There are fantastic pathways for football referees in New Zealand, who show talent. Three Kiwi referees were named on the officiating panel for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. It would be a shame to see people not becoming involved in refereeing or dropping ouf of the game, because of constant abuse.


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