The current22:41Referees adopt body cameras to deal with abuse
Adrian Tanjala has faced a lot of abuse since he started his career as a football referee at the age of 15. .
“I put (my red card) back in my pocket and before I can turn around, both teams have already kind of come together in the fight,” he said. The current Matt Galloway. “Everyone fights everyone. I get hit several times.”
“Parents, they’ve come onto the field from the stands – you’d think they’d take the kids away from the fight. They’re not. They’re actually in the fight themselves.”
As the situation spiraled out of control, Tanjala left the field and headed for his car – but not without a mob of players and parents following him, shouting obscenities and blaming him for the fight.
Tanjala was just 19 years old at the time. He is now the head referee of the North Toronto Soccer Club, but he said that he was on the verge of leaving the profession due to abuse.
“I cried in the car for an hour… once I got home,” he said. “Then I sent a few emails to see what we can do, how we can deal with reporting it. But it was very disturbing.”
Tanjala had no way of dealing with the incident at the time, but Ontario Soccer is introducing a new tool that it hopes will curb this behavior in the future. As part of its efforts to address aggressive behavior and abuse in matches against referees, Ontario Soccer has announced a pilot project whereby some officials will wear body cameras during matches.
The project is in partnership with Reveal Media, which will provide Ontario Soccer with 50 cameras from July for both youth and adult soccer matches.
“We are taking an initiative here, along with a few tactics, to try to move beyond signage and education and start a zero-tolerance approach,” Ontario Soccer CEO Johnny Misley told me. As it happens.
Misley said it will hopefully be a visual deterrent to discourage abuse and create a record of what is happening.
“It’s a data collection mechanism for us to log and archive this verbal and aggressive behavior so we can deal with our zero tolerance approach and deal with punishment and discipline,” he said.
LISTEN: CEO of Ontario Soccer speaks to As It Happens
As it happens6:36Why Ontario Soccer equips referees with body cameras
Tanjala says it is important to be accountable, as is presenting the reality referees face to other members of the football community. But it’s only part of the answer.
“I will be very clear and say that the principle of bodycams is perfectly reasonable and I agree,” he said. “But… maybe it’s step four, step five of a broader solution, but we’re missing steps one and two.”
Abuse ‘doesn’t belong here’
According to a 2017 survey of 17,000 U.S. referees by the US National Association of Sports Officialsparents and coaches caused nearly 70 percent of all sportsmanship problems in athletics.
Tanjala is not surprised at this. He said he was regularly verbally abused and harassed by adults, including insults about his eyesight.
“I’ve been called ‘Four Eyes’ by adults, and I think that’s incredible,” he said.
“This is schoolyard bullying, but it’s coming from adults — and more importantly, it’s coming from parents who you’d think would have a little more empathy for kids.”
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Tracy Vaillancourt, a professor at the University of Ottawa who coaches football at the county level, says tough umpires are commonplace in sports — and that’s partly because youth sports “seem more professional than ever before.”
“I think in a way we’re copying what’s happening at the highest level, thinking it has a place in youth sport, and it doesn’t,” she told Galloway. “The abuse of referees, even at the highest level, has no place there.”
“But certainly, I think parents and coaches think this matters, that the outcome of these games matters, and yet they really don’t in the long run.”
Vaillancourt studies the mental health consequences of beatings by Canadian soccer referees. She said violence is “contagious” and if it is accepted in one setting, it can be accepted in another.
“This is not the way we can live. We have to be nice to each other. We have to be polite. We have to allow people to make mistakes and learn – and that just doesn’t happen.”
Changing the culture
Tanjala said he didn’t feel he was in an environment where it was safe to make mistakes when he was younger.
“I had no one to support me,” he said. “I was on my own at pretty much every game I did.”
That’s why he thinks part of the answer to stopping abuse in sport is to create a culture of respect through the enforcement of zero-tolerance policies and education.
“Knowing that, yes, we have to be strict, and if individuals are abusive, yes, we have to remove them from those situations,” he said. “But when we do that, we can’t just tell them, ‘Well, we removed you because you’re rude.'”
“We need to try to work with these individuals, get to the root of why you’re doing this.”
For Vaillancourt, that starts with coaches.
“They’re role models for the parents, they’re role models for the players, and they’re the ones who I think set the moral tone for the entire sports context,” she said. “So I think if we clean up the behavior of coaches, I think we’ll see spectators and players follow suit.”
And Vaillancourt says harassment of youth referees should be recognized for what it is: “child abuse”.
“In the context of the sport, it’s part of the game for some reason,” she said. “But we have to change that zeitgeist, that point of view, because it really does harm.”