Two-thirds of referees quit within two years due to abuse, FAI to tell politicians

Other governing bodies acknowledge problem often rooted in lack of knowledge of rules

Oireachtas Committee on Sport members to hear of problem of abuse of grassroots referees across codes. Photograph: iStock

As many as two-thirds of soccer referees quit within two years due to the abuse they face in the role, according to the Football Association of Ireland (FAI).

The organisation's assessment of the problem will be among those presented by representatives of the governing bodies of football, Gaelic Games and rugby on the abuse of match officials in sport to the Oireachtas Committee on Sport on Wednesday.

The meeting is taking place after the entire fixture list of the north Dublin schoolboy league and Metropolitan girls league were cancelled for a weekend earlier this month due to abuse of referees.

Sean Slattery, the vice-president of the Irish Soccer Referees Society will tell TDs and Senators that there have been three instances of assault in Dublin in the last two months. In each case the player responsible was suspended for 12 months.


In his opening statement Mr Slattery says his organisation recommends that its members report assaults to the Gardaí but, he admits, “in most cases this doesn’t happen, possibly due to fear of recrimination”.

He says that football matches provide a vital recreational outlet for many thousands of players, parents, and spectators but “the downside is when banter is replaced by insulting, foul language, sometimes followed by threats of violence directed at the referee”.

He says that in 99 per cent of cases referees are on their own at venues and “the effects of this type of behaviour can be very demoralising”.

“When this becomes a regular event, a lot of them decide enough is enough, and they say to themselves that they don’t need this in their lives, and retire from the game,” he adds.

Gerard Perry, the chairman of the FAI's referees' committee, will say there "appears to be a growing problem in Irish society and across many codes, not just football".

He says that since 2019 there have 34 cases of abuse of match officials brought before the Disciplinary Control Unit of the FAI and 22 of those cases resulted in long term suspensions for those found guilty of abuse, ranging from 12 months to 24 months.

“We cannot and will not tolerate the abuse of any match official” and the FAI is working with referees to “ensure that they feel safe,” he says

The FAI has 1,430 referees, he says, but retention remains an issue and “the escalating abuse of match officials does not help in this regard”.

“Anecdotally we lose 66 per cent of new referees within the first two years of them completing the referee beginner’s course. Exit interviews inform us that ‘referee abuse’ is the main reason for them stopping.”

Tomás Ó Riain, the GAA’s ard stiúrthóir, will tell the committee that the organisation responds appropriately to any adverse experiences referees might encounter, including the provision of counselling as required.

‘Pervading climate’

The GAA is said to be aware of the issues referees face and “we are working hard to improve things.”

Mr Ó Riain will highlight “a pervading climate among those who watch and report on our games, and more significantly those anonymous commentators on discussion forums and social media to persistently pass judgement”.

“This is often unfair, with little balance, and frequently with very little actual knowledge of the rules of the game.”

He adds that: “Despite our best efforts this lack of respect can at times transfer itself to the field of play.”

Dudley Phillips, the head of referees at the IRFU will says that "abuse of match officials is on the rise, and while rugby has a good reputation for respecting our officials, we are not immune and must continue to take the matter extremely seriously".

“Sport is one area impacted by what seems to be an increase in abuse in society in general.

“One only has to look at any of the many social media posts that arise from sport week in week out to see evidence of this.”

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times