Referees in grassroots football have reported feeling more confident and secure while wearing bodycams during matches, according to a trial conducted by the Football Association (FA). The trial, which began in February, saw around 100 referees donning the technology for adult matches. This was in response to hundreds of grassroots referees who told the BBC that they felt unsafe when officiating. Daniel Meeson, the FA’s head of refereeing, said that the bodycams act as a “deterrent” and, so far, no referee has had to activate their camera.
The bodycams are produced by Reveal Media and have an automatic 30-second capture. This means that if a referee is being abused, they can press record on the camera and it will capture the previous 30 seconds. The footage is then uploaded to cloud storage and is subject to data protection rules. If the trial is successful, the cost of the cameras will have to be addressed as there are 28,000 qualified referees in England. The FA does not want clubs to have to pay for the cameras and will look into funding after the trial concludes.
The BBC conducted a survey of 7,000 members of the Referees’ Association in England, with 900 responding. Of these, 293 said they had been physically abused by spectators, players, coaches or managers. Some 57 respondents had received death threats against them or their loved ones. There were 122 referees aged 17 and under who responded to the questionnaire – more than 100 said they had been verbally abused by coaches/managers (105), spectators (109) or players (102).
In Lancashire, the local Football Association is trying to tackle the issue of abuse through ‘Adults in Junior Football’ workshops. These sessions talk to parents, coaches and managers about their behaviour on match days. Former England goalkeeper David James has sponsored the training of young referees in Lancashire and wants to see the workshops rolled out across the country. Safeguarding officer Neil Yates challenged those present at the workshop to change the “nature of the noise” to “praise, not pressure”. He said that it breaks his heart to hear stories of children leaving the pitch crying because adults have screamed at them.
The FA’s bodycam trial is the first of its kind in the world and has been approved by the International Football Association Board (IFAB). The trial is being conducted in selected adult grassroots leagues in Essex, Liverpool, Middlesbrough and Worcester. If successful, it will be further extended during the 2023-24 season. The bodycams are intended to act as a deterrent for misconduct and poor participant behaviour. Referees have reported feeling more confident and secure while wearing them and it appears that the deployment of these devices is having the desired effect.