LONDON, England – Roberto Rosetti, the chief of referees for UEFA, said passionately and succinctly late last month: “We need referees!”
He made the point that even though football is thriving throughout Europe, with an increase in teams and leagues for both men’s and women’s games, the number of match officials isn’t keeping up, with almost one in seven registered match officials quitting the sport each year. The 55 member organizations of UEFA are short roughly 40,000 referees.
Few, if any, youngsters want to rush around making sure the Rules of the Game are being followed. Most kids want to be the ones scoring the goals, while some (generally the less mobile) want to be the ones keeping the goals out. However, those that do were virtually all casual footballers who, maybe at a young age, realized they could compete more successfully as match officials than they ever could as players.
However, there are proportionately fewer of them today, and changing that will need efforts beyond those put forth in this recruitment video from UEFA. And while you might argue that it does not matter if a game with under-12 girls takes place in a remote suburb without a licensed match official, the truth is that it influences the entire pyramid.
Like sportsmen, the greatest referees rise through the ranks and eventually officiate Champions League and Premier League matches, which are events that many of us take very seriously. But fewer referees entering the system—typically at the age of 14 or 15—means fewer competent ones moving up through it. It will eventually directly affect the elite game.
This is a problem that football organizations all around the world are dealing with, and Rosetti named one of the issues as the abuse referees suffer. He does not mean at the top level, where referees in their 40s who have accepted it for the previous 25 years and built a career out of it, have plainly come to terms with it; rather, he means lower down, at the grassroots level. He is referring to scenarios in which 14-year-old boys officiate youth teams on their own because there are no assistants or fourth officials at that level, let alone VARs, and they endure insults and jeers from both the players on the field and the parents watching from the sidelines. a place where coaches are enraged and pursue 16-year-old girls around the field. where a 22-year-old amateur football referee is brutally beaten by adults, is struck in the head, and is forced to run. (In case you were curious, the suspensions for the two players that attacked him were five and three years, respectively.)