London (AFP) – A teenage referee has organised a strike which could see thousands of officials withdraw from English amateur matches this weekend in protest at the on-field abuse they receive.
Ryan Hampson, 18, told the BBC that “more than 2,000 people up and down the country” would be taking part on March 4 and 5.
There has long been anecdotal evidence that referees in the English amateur game have been subjected to a range of abuse that had led many of them to quit football completely, with Hampson saying he alone had been “head-butted, spat at and punched on numerous occasions.”
“We’re not safe – we want more help and more security. Enough’s enough, change is needed.”
Hampson, who started refereeing as a 14-year-old, said England’s governing Football Association needed to do more to support match officials.
“I don’t think The FA is doing enough in terms of supporting referees. If they were, why would 2,000 referees be striking?
“Referees do not feel supported up and down this country. We want assaults of referees to stop.
“One referee assault is bad enough but at the moment it’s going on all the time.”
One of Hampson’s suggestions to improve the current situation would be to let referees wear body cameras while officiating as this would enable to record instances of abuses and might deter potential offenders.
At the moment, referees are only allowed to carry, a notebook and pen, whistle and watch.
An FA spokesman told the BBC they had “spoken at length with Hampson”.
The FA said 880,000 youth and adult affiliated grassroots football matches had been played in England last season.
“From this, there were 111 proven cases of assaults and under FA regulations — this means those offenders are now banned from all football activity,” the governing body said.
“And, after eight seasons in existence, we have given the Respect campaign some renewed focus by appointing a dedicated campaign manager to help continue this important work.”
Hampson is due to meet with the FA again on March 10 and said he had been told Neale Barry, the FA’s head of senior referee development, will be discussing the issue at the FA’s referee committee later this month.
Referees do have the option to book and even send-off players for abuse.