Minor soccer referees in Quebec to wear body cameras to prevent abuse

In an effort to prevent abuse by parents and some coaches, a minor soccer association in Quebec’s Eastern Townships plans to equip referees with body cameras next season.

Referees in the association, most of whom are between 14 and 16 years old, are increasingly facing virulent comments from parents, said Martin Tremblay, president of the Association du Soccer Mineur de Windsor, in Windsor, Que.

“To see a referee leave the field crying and saying, ‘I’ve had enough,’ disgusted me,” he said in an interview Monday.

“In 2023, we had several referees who told us that they were fed up and ready to leave, mainly because of the parents,” he said, adding that some referees would ask to be reassigned when they were scheduled to work games involving certain teams.

Starting next spring, one referee during each association game will wear a body camera, said Tremblay, who first started thinking about recording games in 2022 after the parents of an injured player asked if there was video of what had happened to their child on the pitch.

While some hockey games are recorded, he said, a soccer field is too big to record everything with stationary cameras. Tremblay said he hopes the body cameras will make parents think twice before they hurl abuse at other kids.“What we’re hoping is that when people realize they’re being filmed, they might be calmer or be less aggressive toward our young people,” he said, adding that if necessary the footage will be reviewed by the regional soccer association’s discipline committee.

Tremblay said he believes his association is the first in Quebec with a plan to deploy cameras.

In Ontario, some soccer referees began wearing cameras in August for a pilot project, said Johnny Misley, CEO of Ontario Soccer.

Results of the pilot won’t be published until next winter, after the data gathered is analyzed by researchers from Brock University, but Misley says referees have told his organization that the cameras are helping. Referees of the winter season are wearing cameras, he said, adding the pilot will continue next summer for outdoor games.

The cameras are, at least anecdotally, “acting as a visual deterrent,” Misley said in an interview Monday, adding that referees are feeling more confident knowing they can record bad behaviour. They have also reported that they are physically comfortable wearing the cameras during games, he said.

Misley said his organization is in touch with the English Football Association, which is doing a similar study; Football Australia, meanwhile, has contacted Ontario Soccer because it’s planning a similar project.

The cameras are just one of several steps Ontario Soccer is taking to fight abuse against referees, he said, adding that while the problem has been around for decades, it seems to have gotten worse over the past couple years.

Misley said two incidents last year really highlighted how bad things had become: a 16-year-old referee was swarmed by parents after a game; and in a separate match a referee was chased by an adult player — who had been given a red card — with a machete.

“The fact that we’re putting body cams on referees is a pretty sad statement on our society today, it’s unfortunate that this even has to be considered,” he said. “But we’re hoping that these visual deterrents will help make people think twice.”

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