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The difficult life and times of a referee

by Alexander Cole April 5, 2016
The difficult life and times of a referee

Examining what could quite possibly be the hardest job in the sports world

If you have ever played a sport, those who don the white and black striped jerseys, otherwise known as referees, have either been the voice of reason, or your mortal enemy. However, most athletes would probably say the latter.

Graphic by Thom Bell.

Graphic by Thom Bell.

In any sport, referees are essential to the game. They enforce the rules and make sure that nothing gets out of hand. Referees have to think quickly and make the right call. If they make the right call, they are just doing their job, but if they mess up and make a sloppy decision, they never hear the end of it. Whether it be from coaches, players and in some cases, parents, referees have to face constant scrutiny for what they do. In many ways, they can never win.

Robert Ziukas is a 23-year-old soccer referee, who has officiated for the Pointe-Claire Amateur Soccer Association and the Greater Montreal Athletic Association high school league, is no stranger to the pressures of being an official.

“No matter how well you do this job, most people look at the game through rose-coloured glasses,” Ziukas said. “They see what they want to see”

Ziukas has seen many on-field incidents which in the moment, made his job as a referee that much more difficult. During one soccer match in particular, between two U-15 girl’s teams, Ziukas witnessed a player from one team yank on another player’s ponytail. As a result, Ziukas gave the player a red card and ejected her from the game, which led that player’s coach to yell at him in disagreement. Ziukas eventually ejected the coach from the game as well.

Ziukas also explained that in an adult game, players from the opposing team accused him of favouritism for the way he was officiating and even accused him of having an uncle on the other team. For Ziukas, being yelled at is just part of the job. He also said that there are three types of people he has dealt with.

“There are the people that accept the referee’s calls but disagree to some extent,” Ziukas said. “Then you have the people who disagree and respond with disrespect towards the referee. The least common thing I see is people who understand that we call what we see and we don’t care who wins.”

Nathalie Germain, a 19-year-old soccer referee who has also officiated in the same leagues as Ziukas, has had both positive and negative experiences in her job.

“I really liked reffing kids and teaching them the sport,” Germain said. “It was really nice because parents see you trying to help their kids and they tend to like refs when the level of competition is low.”

However, when reffing higher levels, Germain has been heckled by players, coaches and spectators. Germain even referenced one situation where parents were yelling at her so much, that she yelled back. Germain said that she felt awful after for losing her cool, and that referees aren’t allowed to interact with the crowd.

“With kids, it’s never the players who harass you,” Germain said. “It’s almost always the adults and the older players who talk smack and show disrespect.”

While Ziukas and Germain ref mainly amatuer leagues, the stakes are even higher when it comes to those who officiate professionals. The calls that a referee makes can influence the outcome of a game and in the case of professional sports, officiating decisions are debated on a weekly basis.

It’s hard to deny just how difficult it is to be the one in black and white.

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