In a bid to curb aggressive behavior towards referees at soccer games across Ontario, the Ontario Soccer Association is launching a pilot project this summer to equip referees with body cameras. The cameras will capture any abuse, physical or mental, that referees may be subject to while on the job. The move is in response to a concerning uptick in incidents of aggression, such as the assault of a 16-year-old female official by angry parents in a parking lot, and a player who was thrown out of an adult recreation game last year only to return with a machete from their trunk, which they used to chase the referee around the field.
“Human behavior has changed, and we’ve seen an increase in aggressive behavior towards referees in matches,” said Johnny Misley, president of Ontario Soccer.
While the Association is still finalizing the logistics of the pilot project, it is expected to launch on July 1 and run through the indoor season, with a report out next year. Michelle Loveless, executive director of the Durham Region Soccer Association, lamented the increase in both the number and severity of incidents since the pandemic hit, resulting in a roughly 66% decrease in registered referees in her district.
Similar stresses are affecting Toronto, where Rob Gillies, president of the Toronto Soccer Association, noted that referees as young as 14 or 15 were likely to quit after a verbal altercation with an adult. Gillies welcomed the use of body cameras, as they would provide video footage that could serve as evidence against aggressive spectators. Matthew Bagazzoli, vice president of the Toronto Referee Association, echoed Gillies’s point, emphasizing the importance of maintaining the game’s fun for everyone involved and how technology could play a critical role in enhancing safety for referees.
Ontario’s pilot project is reminiscent of a similar initiative currently underway in the UK, aimed at addressing issues of aggression doled out to referees. While the idea has met with widespread approval, some critics worry about the added costs and technology requirements to implement the project fully.
In conclusion, the Ontario Soccer Association’s decision to test body cameras on its referees to combat rising aggression levels is a progressive move. With referee shortages as a chronic problem across Canadian Soccer, the hope is that the use of cameras will provide increased safety and security to referees, which, in turn, results in a more enjoyable game for all participants. As such, the Association has adopted a zero-tolerance approach to aggression towards referees, making it clear that such behavior will not be tolerated.