Violent behavior towards referees in sports has been on the rise since the pandemic

Sports organizations in the greater Quebec City and Chaudière-Appalaches region are struggling to find and then keep referees because of the increasing number of inappropriate behaviors they have to deal with every time they put on their official uniform.

Considering the situation “alarming”, the Quebec Student Sports Network (RSEQ) of Quebec and Chaudière-Appalaches is launching the “Respect the Game” campaign, which aims to raise awareness among the population about what referees have to deal with. The website has been specifically set up and offers several awareness tools.

This poster will be present in several places to raise awareness.

Photo by Kevin Dubé

According to an internal study, half of their referees have already been victims of violence by parents or coaches dissatisfied with their work, which means that the number of referees has fallen by 20% in the last few years.

In basketball, for example, 17 out of 42 officials left after last season, many simply did not want to deal with the criticism on their account.

For RSEQ Quebec and Chaudière-Appalaches director general Mathieu Rousseau, the rise in these free gestures toward referees has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

“It’s made things worse about what people allow themselves to say. (…) These are behaviors that we do not want to become normalized, for example waiting for the referee after the match or shouting some things that would not be said outside of a sports context. I’m not sure people understand the meaning of all their words.”

More athletes

The pandemic, however, had a favorable effect on young people because it resulted in an increase in applications for sports activities. At the same time, the number of matches shown each week, of all sports combined, exploded.

But the number of judges is not growing at the same speed, so the officials are overworked. In certain sports, matches sometimes have to be refereed by the coach of one of the two teams due to a lack of referees.

“One weekend last February we had 1,600 games in the Quebec and Chaudière-Appalaches region, so we had officials playing 6, 7 or 8 games a day during tournament periods. They come exhausted and we come on Sunday, they miss offside and it’s the end of the world. Ideally, they would play two or three games,” summarizes Hockey Québec–Chaudière-Appalaches officials coordinator, Philip Thivierge.

The excesses of individual parents or coaches have been on the rise since the pandemic, and not only in hockey.

Hockey Québec – Chaudière-Appalaches referees coordinator Philip Thivierge, basketball referees president Guillaume Breton and rugby referees chief Jérôme Lévesque have to deal with a significant shortage of officials in their respective sports.

Photo by Kevin Dubé

Supervision of young judges

One of the main challenges is to retain young judges in the long term.

“They yell at them three or four times and then they go and get a job in a shop,” adds Mr Thivierge.

Since these young, inexperienced referees are more often victims of violent behavior, a pilot project will be implemented in basketball, according to which every minor referee or one who has the first year of official service, regardless of age, will have to wear a jersey. a green armband that will allow them to be identified.

“We have to present it by saying we care about them, whether they’re 16 years old or a 32-year-old rookie. I don’t want this to be their only match. We will support them well by placing experienced judges alongside them. I think it will be good and we hope to apply it to other sports in the coming years.”

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