By Max Fletcher
The Waikato/Bay of Plenty region has lost 35 football referees in the past two years, and the sport is struggling to replace them.
The number of referees who have given up, retired or relocated represents 46% of the pool needed to officiate at matches throughout the season.
The federation has been able to recruit only a few to help offset the growing shortage.
This leaves the region short of referees and assistant referees for the region’s seven leagues requiring qualified officials, with competition matches scheduled to take place between late March and September.
Reasons for referees leaving the game include negative and abusive comments from players, coaches and spectators.
WaiBOP Football’s Referee Appointments Officer Brett Chibnall says: “ Referees are humans and when they have to choose between their families, personal well-being and coverage of games where they are regularly abused, then it doesn’t take long before the choice is one of safety.”
Some also say they feel under pressure and can not cope.
Last season, one young referee emailed his supervisor at WaiBOP, saying he had been abused at a match.
“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.”
‘We have become a blame society’
Chibnall, who has more than 50 years’ experience as a player, coach, referee and referees’ coach, says referees have increasingly become a target for blame
“We have become a blame society and as such, when players, coaches and spectators don’t get what they want, then their default setting is to find someone to blame.
“Much of the blame is based on insufficient understanding of the laws of the game.”
Last year, Chibnall wrote an open letter to the wider football community, urging people to work together “to address the cancer that is dissent and abuse.”
“We are all the problem, and we can all be part of the solution. Please let us start to save our game,” he wrote.
Waikato-based Max Fletcher is a referee and a volunteer writer for Friends of Football.