UYSA enforces zero-tolerance abuse policy amid referee shortage

May 2, 2022, 8:19 PM | Updated: Jun 10, 2022, 11:12 pm

SANDY, Utah — The Utah Youth Soccer Association is enforcing a zero-tolerance policy for any inappropriate behavior toward referees during its games. The association says abuse from the sideline has contributed to a severe shortage of refs and hundreds of canceled games.

UYSA is one of the largest youth sports groups in the state with 60,000 members, up 10,000 from last year. And they are struggling to keep up with the demand for referees.

In a letter to its members and families pleading for more certified referees, UYSA’s president said, “we are facing a dire situation that will see more and more games canceled and severely affect the ability to grow, or even play the game.”

The association says it loses about a third of its refs every season. Last season, they had to cancel 570 games and reschedule nearly 1,500 because officials were not available.

In a follow-up letter from the league commissioner, they announced that effective immediately, UYSA would enforce “a zero-tolerance policy in regard to any inappropriate behavior towards referees.”

In other words, any coach, player or spectator who berates, harasses or threatens a referee, risks forfeiting the game and losing the team’s spectators for the rest of the season.

“Referee abuse has always been an issue,” said Bryan Attridge, CEO of UYSA. “But we have to do better.”

Referees can start as young as 13 and can make anywhere from $35 to $60 a game. Before they get on the field for a game, they have to complete training and become certified.

“Just like a soccer player starting out, they need time to practice and get better,” Attridge said. “They get yelled at, and sometimes mercilessly.”

“They have a love of the game of soccer, and unfortunately, they’re running into situations where they’re being threatened,” said Jen Rader, UYSA’s media manager. “They’re having to wait in the middle of the field until police are called to get an escort off the field to feel safe. That’s not OK.”

Rader interviewed several referees about their experiences. One of them said, “I’ve had people yelling and swearing at me, at the center referee, at the calls. Not liking anything.”

One ref said when she was 16, she had to be “escorted off the field by police officers because people were coming after us.”

Another said, “they told me to be confident in all my calls, otherwise you’ll have parents start yelling at you.”

Attridge acknowledged referees make mistakes and bad calls. And he said they are committing more money to the referee association to improve training. But he urged those on the sidelines to “bite their tongue” and to allow coaches to report it to UYSA, which will then review it and take action, if needed.

“There’s never been a positive interaction from someone being upset at a referee going and approaching that referee after the game,” he said, adding that he hopes the new policy will “start improving the culture around soccer and the culture around referee treatment.”

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UYSA enforces zero-tolerance abuse policy amid referee shortage