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Poor behavior on the touchline exacerbates the shortage of football referees

There is a shortage of football referees in Calgary, and the Calgary Minor Soccer Association is concerned that poor sideline behavior has exacerbated the problem.

According to the association’s executive director, Carlo Bruno, the association did not have enough officials to meet the demand for many years.

Since the pandemic, the problem has worsened — to the point where they have about 30 percent fewer judges than before COVID.

“This is the first time we’re really in a real shortage where not every match, every night is covered,” Bruno said.

Carlo Bruno is the Executive Director of the Calgary Minor Soccer Association. (Presented by Leslie MacLeod)

Bruno said part of the gap has been filled by about 100 new judges who have completed the association’s training. The challenge now is to keep them, which can be tricky when new referees, some as young as 14, have to deal with yelling and heated arguments from parents, players and coaches.

It is hoped that a new initiative called the Turquoise Shirt Campaign will help. The association’s new judges are given turquoise shirts to wear during their first year of service to remind people who they are and give them a little more leeway.

“We want to make sure our community understands that they are part of the decision to restore the referee pool,” he said.

“The more we make the job of a referee unattractive, the fewer officials we will have.”

Player Georgia Simonot notes that many referees are not much older than the players on the field. (Paula Duhacek/CBC)

Players Georgia Simonot and Lucy Smith agreed that bad behavior could be a problem in football. Simonot recently completed refereeing training but admits she’s a little unsettled by what she saw on the pitch.

“There is a lot of disrespect for the referees, for most of the games, which is really upsetting,” Simonot, 14, said.

Football player Lucy Smith says people need to understand that referees are people too and they can make mistakes too. (Paula Duhacek/CBC)

Smith said her friend quit her job as a judge because she was criticized from the outside. She said that parents, coaches and players need to understand that referees do their best, but they can make mistakes from time to time.

“You have to be patient with them and respect them,” Smith, 15, said.

Football coach and parent Kara Patton believes that everyone should try refereeing a football game to see how difficult it is. (Paula Duhacek/CBC)

Parent and coach Kara Patton said aggressive questioning of new judges is not just disrespectful. This can make them doubt themselves – a problem when referees have to be in the moment and pay attention to all aspects of the game.

“You just lose confidence in yourself and can’t do your job as well,” Patton said.

Going forward, Bruno said the association will monitor retention rates to see if the campaign is working. He will also pair new referees with mentors to guide them as they gain experience.

As for Patton, she has a suggestion for people who don’t know how to handle referees: try walking a mile in their boots.

“It would be great education for the community if everyone had to go to one football game and then they could decide how they feel about the referees,” she said.

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