Some of you will have followed the story of my son, who qualified as a referee at the age of 14, back in August 2019.
In his first ever game, refereeing an U12’s teams, he faced verbal abuse and intimidation from 2 adult coaches, which shocked us both. He was shouted at, intimidated, berated throughout the game for decisions he made and I myself witnessed one of the coaches kicking a water bottle and goal post in anger, as well as hearing him say ‘He is f**king useless’ about my son.
All of this because he missed an offside in the 10th minute!
After reporting the incident to our County Football Association (CFA), I was quite shocked at the way this incident are handled. I felt that my son’s welfare, as a 14 year old child, should have been at the forefront of all discussions and procedures. I was equally shocked to learn that children are expected to attend a personal hearing, if the adults who abused them request this. In a lot of instances they are expected to be in the same room, as the very people that abused them and have to answer questions. I refused to allow my son to attend the hearing and we were then offered the opportunity to do this via video conferencing. I again refused, as the whole conversation was about the process and not my son’s welfare.
I felt very passionate that the whole process was not managed well and did not adequately safeguard children nor put their welfare first, so I started to talk to other people and referees about the issue. Social media can be a wonderful place for opening up these conversations and I was contacted by so many people who all had stories to tell about their experiences. I was able to collate the experiences from young referees and their parents, as well as Refsupport UK, Ref’s Association’s and junior football leagues. From this, I produced a report with recommendations. Mark Ives, who is Head of Judicial Services at The FA agreed to read the report and look at the recommendations.
My main aim in all of this was to remove the need for young referee’s to attend a personal hearing in person. They have a tough enough job being a referee without the added worry and anxieties of having to attend a personal hearing and be in the same room as the people who abused them. I also wanted more consistency across County FA’s with the way they dealt with young referees.
There has been a bit of a delay in being able to announce the changes, due to the current situation with Covid-19, however I am delighted to announce the following changes from July for next season:
· Children aged 12-15 will not be permitted to attend a personal hearing in person, as a County or defence witness or indeed as a person who is subject to disciplinary action. If there is a requirement to attend, then this will only be done via telephone or video conference. This means that a 14 or 15 year old referee who has faced abuse and reported this to the County FA, will not have to attend a personal hearing in person anymore. This will be done via telephone or video conference only. There will still be an emphasis and encouragement for the young referee to engage in the process, so that the right outcome can be reached. We need to do all we can to get justice for those who commit offences against referees.
· A young person age 16-17 can attend a personal hearing, however consideration will be given to their own personal circumstances and there will be the option to attend via video conference. The FA also confirmed that this applies to any person who has specific requirements. E.g. a newly qualified referee who is extremely nervous about attending who may have been subject to abuse and may also benefit by attending via video conference, irrespective of their age.
· The training modules for CFA staff and Chairs/Secretaries of personal hearings will be updated with more of an emphasis on the welfare of young referee’s. The mantra ‘young people first, footballers/referee’s second’ will feature. The refresher training programme next season will address these issues and emphasise the importance of dealing with young people appropriately from the investigation stage all the way through the process.
· Steps are being taken to embed the disciplinary process and personal hearings into the training for new referees.
· Also included in the training/education will be information about how to consistently apply the sanctions process to those people who abuse a young referee. This will place the emphasis on taking into account the totality of the offence and sanction appropriately. As an example, if someone pushed a referee, then swore at them and threatened them, all of these would be taken into account when a sanction is given, rather than just a sanction for the worst offence i.e. the physical push. Other aggravating factors will be taking into account more widely, such as the age of the referee and if they are identified as such by the wearing of a purple shirt or yellow armband etc.
· The FA have also clarified the powers of the Commission to amend their procedures completely where circumstances exist that take into consideration anyone (any ages) with physical or mental health issues. This could mean that any part of the process could be dispensed with to ensure the FA/CFA/Commission do what is right for the person involved. Further guidance and training will be given around this area.
Although this last improvement didn’t come from the recommendations in the report, it is certainly great news and very welcomed.
I would like to thank all the young referees and their parents, who talked to me about their experiences, as well as the many Referee’s Associations, junior football clubs and Refsupport UK.
I would like to thank Mark Ives at The FA for reading and considering the recommendations in the report. Mark has stated:
“Some of these changes were intended to be on the Agenda following changes that were made 2 years ago. The report and recommendations you all contributed to and indeed the experience of your son was of a great assistance to me in emphasising the importance of addressing the issue and has helped to facilitate that change – I thank you not only for raising it but for the manner in which you have done so”.
So what is next? My next task is to see how I can make recommendations to ensure that newly qualified and young referee’s receive more support through mentoring. If you wish to be involved, please feel free to message me, Ceri Travers, via social media or at C.firstname.lastname@example.org or contact the RA on contact@the-RA.org