The Football Association (FA), England’s governing body for soccer, is experimenting with body cameras on referees in four adult grassroots leagues, citing verbal and physical abuse.
“[Referees are] one decision away from a smack in the mouth,” Paul Field, president of The Referees’ Association in England, told the BBC in February. “One day in this country, a referee will lose his or her life.”
The bodycam move comes after a Radio 5 Live-generated questionnaire distributed to The Referees’ Association’s 7,000 members generated responses from more than 900 amateur refs — many of whom stated they’d been subject to abuse, intimidation and death threats. According to Reuters, the FA banned 380 players and coaches in 2022 for attacking or threatening referees and match officials.
“The aim of the trial is to explore whether the use of bodycams improves participant behavior and respect towards referees in the grassroots game,” the FA said in a statement. “If it’s successful, [the FA] may look to roll it out across additional adult grassroots football leagues in England during the 2023-24 season.”
The trial began in February and involves about 100 officials. All reportedly received the support, education and training required to use the bodycams, and footage can be accepted as evidence in a disciplinary hearing, if required.
“I feel very lucky to take part in this trial,” one official said. “I think it’s going to increase my skills and awareness on how we communicate with players — not only how we conduct ourselves on a matchday, but also being able to take charge of the game with a bit more authority on some occasions.”
“It’s a defining moment in grassroots football,” added another participating official.
Eye-Opening BBC Survey Results
Of the survey’s 927 respondents, 122 were 17 and younger; more than 100 of them revealed they had been verbally abused by coaches/managers, spectators or players, according to BBC.com.
Here are other highlights, courtesy of BBC.com:
• 908 respondents said they have experienced verbal abuse from coaches/managers, spectators or players.
• 778 have been sworn at while officiating, while 375 had endured personal abuse regarding their appearance, gender, race or sexual orientation.
• Almost 300 have experienced physical abuse from coaches/managers, spectators or players.
• 283 officials report receiving a threat of violence against them or their loved ones.
• 57 report receiving a death threat against them or their loved ones.
• 378 say they are “often” or “sometimes” worried about their safety.
• Verbal or physical abuse has negatively affected the mental health of 361 respondents.
While the FA’s trial is believed to be the first of its kind in international soccer, FIFA (soccer’s international governing body) was considering outfitting its referees with bodycams as recently as 2022 to “act as a deterrent as well as evidence collection,” according Reuters.
“Referees will profit from the possible protection, which sadly still takes place in many parts of the world,” FIFA President Gianni Infantino said at the time. “We have attacks on them from players, officials, spectators and parents, and we have to be very firm in that respect.”
To give you a sense of what referee bodycam footage looks like, consider the video montage posted in 2017 by global television network RT featuring footage captured by a Major League Soccer referee during a pre-season match between Real Madrid and an MLS All-Star team at Chicago’s Soldier Field. In one snippet, after referee Allen Chapman rebuffs a penalty appeal from Real Madrid, two players are seen “remonstrating” with him.
The bodycam announcement comes the same time as the news that a Baltimore man pulled a gun on two youth basketball coaches during his son's game. According to reports, the suspect, who was arrested, was angry about a lack of playing time being given to his son.