Sport organizations across Ontario are seeing high return rates for players from all ages and levels of play following the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The same, however, cannot be said for referees, whose return rates are being described by Ontario Soccer as alarmingly low by comparison.
When Ontario Soccer learned referee maltreatment is the No. 1 reason for leaving the game, the organization partnered with Brock University Sport Management (SPMA) researchers to tackle the issue head-on.
“Ontario Soccer, which has a pre-existing relationship with SPMA, approached us to collaborate on a project focused on raising awareness of cultural and behavioural issues related to referee maltreatment,” says SPMA Assistant Professor Ashley Thompson, the project’s Principal Investigator. “These collaborations are critical and allow us, as a research team, to help provide our community partners with evidence they can use to make informed decisions on key issues they’ve identified — in this case, referee maltreatment.”
Wanting to make a data-driven decision on how to implement body cams across provincial programs to reduce instances of maltreatment, Ontario Soccer has launched a referee body-cam pilot initiative, whereby 50 referees will wear the technology during the outdoor season in August and September as well as the indoor season this fall and winter.
The participating refs are expected to turn the cameras on when they arrive at a venue and not turn them off until they have left.
With the outdoor soccer season already underway, the Brock research team — comprised of Thompson, SPMA Associate Professors and Co-investigators Shannon Kerwin and Michael Naraine, and master’s student and Research Assistant Chandler McFall (BSM ’22) — will use a survey tool after the body cams are worn to assess whether referees perceive the technology curbs the maltreatment they may or may not experience.
The indoor season, which begins in October, will see data collection expand to include surveys before and after the cameras are worn, with revisions made to the tool. Preliminary data analysis is expected to start in late November.
“We are committed to addressing the culture of referee maltreatment,” says Ontario Soccer Chief Executive Officer Johnny Misley. “Our hope is the data collected by Brock researchers will determine if the body cams are an effective visual deterrent in reducing maltreatment and increasing referee perceptions of safety.”
Ontario Soccer provides leadership and support to 18 district associations, with membership that includes more than 500 youth and senior clubs across Ontario, including recreation teams through to high performance as well as Ontario’s Player Development League.
“These partnerships with the sport industry are incredibly important as we see sport moving in a direction where managers are using research-based evidence to make decisions,” says Kerwin. “In collaboration with the Centre for Sport Capacity, we are here to support organizations like Ontario Soccer in those endeavours and as needs emerge, and we anticipate further collaborations to inform future decisions.”