Grassroots referees to meet with FA over abuse concerns

Hackney Marshes
Thousands of amateur and youth footballers play the game every weekend

Referees from grassroots football will meet with FA chief executive Martin Glenn on Thursday to highlight the abuse suffered from amateur players.

It comes as the charity Ref Support UK claims a strike could be on the cards, with calls to its hotline showing a rise in physical and verbal assaults.

"I've been a ref now for many years and I have not seen it getting better, in fact, over the last five years I've seen it getting so much worse," Ref Support UK chair Janie Frampton told BBC Sport.

"My fear is that it's going to take something very serious, or a death, before anyone will take it seriously."

The FA insists incidents of assaults on grassroots referees are "very rare" and point to figures which show that last season there 61 reported assaults from around 850,000 grassroots games in England, which represents an incident in just 0.01% of games.

It also says there has been a 45% reduction in assaults on referees from the previous two seasons.

However, those figures are disputed by Frampton.

"A lot of people don't have faith in the system," she said. "If they're not reporting, that will show the stats as having gone down.

"Our 24-hour helpline at Ref Support doesn't agree with that stat. We are the first and only helpline for referees. And some of the cases we have are horrendous.

"Let's not kid ourselves that it's getting better because it really isn't."

Asked about the prospect of strike action if more support is not forthcoming, Frampton said: "I do think we are getting close to that."

Body cameras are among the innovations that Ref Support believes could help.

Such a device has been trialled by grassroots referee Richard Myers, who has previously been a victim of physical abuse during a match.

"It's comfortable, it's not a problem wearing it, if it's going safeguard those that feel they need it... why not?" Myers said.

"Any tools we can bring to the game that will safeguard referees and officials, then let's exhaust it, let's look at it."

An FA spokesperson said: "The FA takes any assault on a referee with the utmost seriousness.

"We work alongside our county FA network to offer support to referees, via their designated Referee Development Officer, and ensure the strongest possible action is taken against the perpetrators. This includes a minimum five-year ban for anyone found guilty of assaulting a grassroots referee.

"The vast majority of grassroots referees find officiating matches a wholly positive experience. It remains a priority for the FA to tackle unacceptable behaviour at grassroots level through the ongoing Respect campaign, which gives county FAs, players, coaches, parents, referees and volunteers the guidance and support to help create a safe and inclusive game for all participants at every level."

Analysis

By Natalie Pirks, BBC Sport

When you speak to amateur referees it is clear there is a postcode lottery when it comes to how supported they feel. Some have said their county FAs have been wonderful when they've reported assault or abuse. Others, that support was non-existent.

It has left many feeling isolated, working in the type of football where having assistants and cameras feels like a distant dream.

Thursday's meeting will focus on trying to show the FA that money needs to be given to county FAs to help improve referee development and the support structure.

Strength of feeling is such that a second nationwide strike, like that of two years ago, could be on the cards if the FA doesn't listen to the concerns of grassroots referees.

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