Referee’s open letter: ‘It’s time we worked together to save our game’

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A long-serving Waikato referee has written an open letter, pleading with the football community to band together to “address the cancer that is dissent and abuse”.

Brett Chibnall, who is the Referee Appointments Officer for WaiBOP Football, says his region has lost 16 officials since the end of last season, many because they are tired of having to endure “constant niggle and disrespect”.

In his open letter published by WaiBOP Football, Chibnall calls upon the entire football community to face up to the issue.

“We are all the problem, and we can all be part of the solution. Please let us start to save our game,” he urges.

Here is his open letter in full:

Dear fellow members of the WaiBOP footballing community,

Recently, I received this in an email from an official:

“I felt very unsafe and lonely … I was disappointed as well because I was getting abused like I had done wrong. I am feeling pretty down about myself because of the stuff players and coaches said about me. It has hit me hard as this is the first major abuse I have had as a referee.”

The young man who wrote this is 15 years of age.

He is an official from the WaiBOP referee academy and is a young man we are proud of. His parents, along with the club he originates from, also feel immense pride in what he is doing. He has taken on coaching and training advice and applies himself well.

And, like many of our region’s officials do every week, he was abused while just doing his job.

I have played, coached, refereed, and coached referees over the last 53 years and feel it is time that all of us — as a family of football — address the cancer that is dissent and abuse.

We witness Premier League games where they take the knee to acknowledge the fight against racism. In our games we start with the respect handshake or, at the very least, we have a handshake between the captains and the referee.

Then from the moment the first whistle is blown many feel it is their right to scream, denigrate and bully all the way through to the final whistle.

Is that cool?

Over the weekend I was coaching a referee during a match and listened to an aggrieved player ask the referee: “What sort of [email protected]#ing retard are you?”

Now, I am a high school teacher where we have a unit designed to teach intellectually disabled students. I know I would deserve to lose my job if I spoke like this at my school. Yet, in our game I hear spoken words and see written words that are vile and disgusting.

I am the WaiBOP referee appointments officer and, with the help of CK Kawana-Waugh (WaiBOP’s Referee Manager), try to make sure that as many games as possible are covered by our officials every weekend from March until September.

Sadly, from the end of last season until now we have lost sixteen officials. Some of them were young people who went off to university. However, many simply gave the game away because they were tired of the constant niggle and disrespect from players, coaches, and spectators.

The whole world has had more than two years fighting our way through a global pandemic. It’s been tough. I think it’s time we all really tried to make a sustained and concerted effort to get along. I often say to my students: “If there is one thing you can aspire to in this world then it is to be kind.”

It is always okay to disagree, but just ask yourself: “How would I feel if someone abused me over a decision I made?”

It is simply not acceptable to call out some of the vile hate that appears to some to be an acceptable way of expressing disappointment. Those people are your brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers in the sport we all love … and they are hurting.

The game is losing officials at an alarming rate. We are all the problem, and we can all be part of the solution. Please let us start to save our game.

Brett Chibnall
WaiBOP Referee Appointments Officer

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