Ontario Soccer Refs Start Wearing Body Cams To Deter Parental Abuse… But Is This Really The Answer?
This story was originally posted on September 25, 2023 and there were a number of people that asked if it could be reposted as they wanted to share it with others.
So we at Post Coach obliged.
The following post is a commentary on the latest story by Lane Harrison of the CBC in Toronto https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/ontario-soccer-referee-body-cameras-1.6977122?__vfz=medium%3Dsharebar. This blog does not represent anyone else’s views, it is just the writer’s observations of the game from the sideline, as a fan and as a student of the game.
So George Orwell would have been proud, his predictions have finally come true. Granted, it’s a little bit later that 1984, (39 years to be exact), but then again Orwell’s book was to be originally called 1948, but it was not going to published until 1949, so the last two numbers of “48” and “84” were inverted, and so we begin.
So “Big Brother has finally done it… it has completely infiltrated the game of football at the lower levels. From the top levels where VAR (needed), to outside of stadiums and fields for security (needed), we are now at the micro level of the game where officials will be wearing “body cams” in Ontario to protect them from parental and coach abuse in the province of Ontario. I have one question for the deep thinkers out there: Why are we continuing to put a “band aid” on an open wound?
Now before some of you even remotely think that I am condoning abusing an official, this concept sickens me to my core and I believe that anyone that would go out of their way to completely abuse an official to the point of threatening them to physically abusing them is point blank WRONG!! May I add, it has absolutely NO PLACE IN THE GAME!!!
Sadly, in the past on more than one occasion I have had to walk with officials out to their cars, or walk behind them to make sure that they get to their cars safely, so that they were not abused. I have had a player walk up to an official in the parking lot and threaten and official in front of his wife and baby and he was an aspiring official. It is these behaviors that cannot be tolerated and we need it out of our game. We need to take the “bubble wrap” off of the our kids and let them understand that sometimes, things happen and that we need to take responsibility for our actions whether they are good or bad. But the same needs to be said for the officials that the body cams are looking to protect.
Unfortunately due to the shortage of officials “post-COVID”, (in 2019, 8,500 on-field officials were registered with the provincial governing body in Ontario). But by 2021, there were 4,846, or a little more than half the number who signed up to work before COVID-19 forced leagues and clubs into hiatus according to Johnny Misley, the chief executive of Ontario Soccer. Now a lot of these factors have to do with a change in people’s attitudes to any kind of human contact, or willingness to not do anything that brings them any sort of discomfort in service of others, (and this is a social commentary for another article written by someone else with a PhD in another discipline on another web page), but officials numbers are down. Add to the fact that the CRA has virtually wiped out the “underground economy” of officiating for cash in the last 7-10 years, the quality officials are very selective about the games the take and there quite honestly, there are not enough of them at the lower levels.
Now there are other factors to take into consideration:
- The higher leagues MLS/CanPL have taken the best young officials and moved them up (Officials are just like players and they want to get to the highest level as possible as well.)
- Good to excellent Officials are over worked and stretched thin because of the demand for their services by ALL of the leagues (USports, CCAA, League 1 Canada, Provincial Leagues, Regional Leagues, Youth Leagues)
- Most officials have not played the game at any rudimentary level (because they were not very good athletes or have come from other sports and have only read the rule book) and do not understand the player mentality thus many are not able to “marshal and manage” the events of the flow of the game
- The CRA explanation above (yes folks this is a real thing some officials track how much they make over a summer and will stop when they hit their exemption amount, so as to not incur and further taxation penalties)
- We as a society believe that we can have our “say” and when we feel that we are wronged, that someone is taking advantage of us and we go on the attack
- People are “a**holes” when they don’t get their way and will act accordingly because they feel that they can “bully” their way into getting what they want
- People are not willing to have their kids “struggle” to get better. They want the “bubble wrap” “training wheels” on all the time and are not willing to have their kids face adversity for possible “life lessons”
And on and on and on and on…
Okay so we got problems. What is life without them?
What do we need to do? Well for starters, we need to understand that this is everyone’s problem. Coaches, players, referees, parents and administrators.
As a coach, yes we in general need to act as leaders and exercise calm when something happens in the run of play, we need to be calm and instead of losing our “stuff”, we need to take a step back and focus on how we solve it and the next thing coming. Our players follow our lead and if we look exasperated and get overly emotional, (and yes I know that this is hard for all of us), our players will follow suit. It is hard when someone is in “over their head” and we ALL see it, but we have all been there. It’s hard when every point in a season is crucial and needed and something goes against your team, but we have to breath and figure out what’s next. We need to solve the problem from the sidelines and not cause the problem from the sidelines.
To the officials: We get it, you’re human.
You’re going to make mistakes, you’re going to get it wrong from time to time, we as coaches accept that. But if you want the respect that you so badly crave, you are the “CEO” of said match. Manage your boardroom, “The Field, The game”. Are you going to make mistakes? Yes, again we accept that. Are you going to make calls that we do not like? Yes, we accept that. Are we going to be happy with you all the time? No, but we accept that. We as coaches realize that we need you in the middle and on the side. We are willing to accept all of the above, but sometimes as in life, the fine line between confidence and arrogance that gets blurred and you need to recognize when you are stepping on, or have stepped over that line and “dial” it back. Communication goes a long way, and some of you do not do this very well. You may not get through at the time, but time will heal the wounds and wrongs. The game has gotten so fast that some of you are in over your heads and we all see it. It is great to be ambitious and want to become the “next one”, but please breath for a second and understand that you may not be ready. Listen to the advice of the assessors and please, please rely on your assistants, they are there to help you all look good. To the assistant officials out there, continue to try and be on the same page as the person in the middle, but also “grow a pair” and pull the person over if they may have gotten the call incorrect. Players and coaches are much more forgiving when you “right a wrong”, than to play the “all omnipotent one” and overrule everyone. You look bad, the AR’s look bad and even worse, the game looks bad.
To the administrators: Please be transparent.
We get that the few of you that there are guiding the officials are also over worked, but when an official has a “shocker” of a game, it serves nobody when the official is put into that situation in the first place when they are not ready for the level. Or even worse, when they have said “shocker” and you discipline them about it, but nothing is ever said to the coaches about it being dealt with. We’re public with coaches, but we are not with officials. And it looks like they are just getting away with it. The lack of “perceived” transparency erodes the confidence in the officials, the processes, and the game. Just let the coaches know. It doesn’t have to be a giant headline, “OFFICIAL IN THE MIDDLE SCREWED THE GAME AND LET IT GET OUT OF CONTROL!!!! But if you fill the coaches in after it has been dealt with, it not only reinforces the faith in the system, but then the coaches know that the officials ARE working to get better. Lastly, I know that we are short on officials, as stated before, but we need to retire all of the officials that cannot move any further. It’s embarrassing for them and to the game. Use some of these geriatric and “round” individuals as mentors, pay them as such. They have a wealth of experience that can be passed on to our young officials. We need more of them, and if they are at a game with some of these young officials, this may act as a deterrence for some of the official abuse. But some of these individuals are hurting the game just by showing up and their lack of mobility from only the center circle.
To the parents and fans: You pay the bills… we get this as coaches, administrators, and managers. But that doesn’t give you a “say” during the game. You get to be positive, and support the players on the field. The official in the middle is the one allowing for your entertainment to take place, or your kids to have fun, don’t screw it up by acting like a “jacka##”. This is not your show, you are NOT the headliner and youth sports shouldn’t carry a “parental advisory” sticker. If you want to perform, armature night at Yuk Yuk’s is Thursday’s at your local club. You are not special, and if you are, then please keep it to yourself, the rest of us don’t care. You pay the bills, but unless you have the desire to step out onto the field as a coach to teach, or a referee to help out and administer the game, please do what my late grandmother once told me: “If you have nothing good to say, then please keep it to yourself”. You’re killing the game, AT ALL LEVELS!!!
Okay, so I haven’t said anything that we all don’t know and that is new. So instead of adding to the issues, how about we work to solve some of them. Body cams may help, but I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but with the officials wearing body cams, we will see even more assaults, because there will be a perception that nothing will be done to someone who does attack an official, because it will take that long to get through the courts, or worst you may damage someone emotionally, or physically for the rest of their life. By that time unfortunately, some poor official will be as stated earlier, either disabled, or killed by some over zealous “knucklehead” without a grip on reality. I personally pray that this doesn’t happen, but it is coming if we do not address the issues and just treat the problem.
Time will tell.