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Ref death makes us examine values

With the recent death of a Utah soccer referee, it behooves all sports lovers who love any game to step back and ask, “What happened?”

This death followed a yellow card issued to a player. The player apparently took exception to the yellow card and struck the adult referee in the head.

This is a travesty that will ultimately impact many families, all for a simple recreational soccer game.

Most sports require training to become an official. Soccer is more stringent than most, requiring extensive online, in-person classroom and on-field training.

Annual examinations are needed to renew the United States Soccer Federation certification, which includes physical fitness testing for the upper-grade referees.

All instructors struggle with one aspect of training – teaching a teenage official or any brand-new official to control adult parents and adult coaches when they become irate.

Technology has compounded this problem of more second-guessing of youth and recreational officials. Sports fans have grown accustomed to resolution at the pro and college level because of instant replay.

A soccer official cannot reverse a decision once the game has been restarted. An appeal might be in order if the official misapplied the laws of the game, but there is no appeal to a “fact” decision by the referee.

All referees are taught they should not accept verbal or physical abuse. We teach soccer referees skill sets that allow them to cope with problems. The ultimate decision is to walk away from the game and file a written report for verbal abuse.

With physical abuse they are told to walk away from the game and call 911. We find that the various police agencies in the greater Spokane area respond well to these emergency calls.

The ultimate best solution is to let the young athletes play the game and let the young officials do their job. Both will learn from the game, both will have fun.

If we solve the problem of unsporting behavior at the entry level, it will not become a problem at the teenage and adult levels. Move the spectators 2 yards from the playing field and 90 percent of the problems go away.

I will leave you with a sad fact. In Spokane, we teach approximately 200 new referees each and every year. Experience tells us we will lose well more than half of these officials the first year.

Asked why, they will tell you it is easier flipping hamburgers than wrestling with parents and coaches who do not know the laws of the game.

Iverson is the president of the Inland Empire Soccer Referee Association and has been a member since 1985. He is the Eastern Washington Instructor Coordinator for the Washington State Referee Committee.


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