Growing abuse leaves local sports struggling to retain officials in Ontario

Sports officials and referees across Canada have reported a growing trend in abuse directed towards them, and Ontario is no different.

Officials with governing bodies say statistics show abuse is the number one reason referees do not return.

Matt McCready, the district referee coordinator of the Elgin-Middlesex Soccer Association, says the amount of abuse has also grown over the past few years.

“It’s not necessarily about not getting opportunities or that the remuneration is not good enough, it’s always coming down to not willing to encounter or put up with the abuse,” McCready tells Global News.

Matt Biderman, vice-president for North London Nationals Baseball, says abuse of umpires has also increased over the years.

Unlike other sports like hockey and football that take place over a large field or in a loud rink, Biderman says since baseball is more intimate, with almost everybody crowded around the diamond, it is easier for voices to travel and be heard clearly.

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So, while the level of abuse in baseball may not be much different from other sports, it can be more clearly received by those it’s directed at.

“Every single game certainly comes with out of line directives at umpires,” said Biderman.

Last year, London hosted a large provincial youth baseball tournament; one of the fields utilized has a permanent bleacher directly behind home plate. Biderman says the abuse umpires received during that tournament resulted in the baseball association asking the city to see if the bleacher could be moved so it was not giving spectators a direct view of home plate.

“There were so many comments made, and these are 13- and 14-year-old kids umpiring games… it was a terrible environment,” added Biderman.

“It’s not a problem that’s going away.”

Both McCready and Biderman say the actions of players and spectators are often influenced by how coaches behave.

To help combat the problem, McCready says body cameras on referees has been in discussion at Ontario Soccer for about a year. A small pilot program is being rolled out in July for some youth referees to wear cameras, and McCready says Middlesex-Elgin will likely be included.

McCready says he hopes the cameras do more than just capture what referees endure during matches.

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“It may serve to be a deterrent,” says McCready. “I think if people know that they are being watched by more than the people around them, it may deter bad behaviour.”

Further to having cameras as a deterrent, both McCready and Biderman say more education with coaches and parents could also be a big benefit.

“If the coach can start with a level of respect, then we hope it permeates through to the parents,” added Biderman.

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