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Liverpool Area to be Test Site for Grassroots Referee Bodycams

The Merseyside area will test out new technology at a grassroots level

Craig Pawson, match referee during the Premier League match between Leeds United and Liverpool FC at Elland Road on April 17, 2023 in Leeds, England.   
Craig Pawson, match referee during the Premier League match between Leeds United and Liverpool FC at Elland Road on April 17, 2023 in Leeds, England.  
Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images

According to the Liverpool Echo, the FA have chosen the Liverpool area as a test site for the use of bodycams in grassroots football. This use of technology is intended as a mean to test and study players’ treatment of referees at the grassroots level.

While this does not affect Liverpool FC in any direct capacity, it nonetheless remains interesting as discussions around propriety and professionalism loom large in the professional game.

While Assistant Referee Contantine Hadzidakis found himself at the center of a probe following his apparent elbow on Andy Robertson at halftime during Liverpool’s match against Arsenal, it remains the case that referees tend to take the brunt of the physical and verbal abuse.

According to a BBC Radio 5 Live survey of grassroots referees, 98% of the 927 respondents experienced verbal abuse, and 30% experienced physical abuse from players, coaches, and spectators.

Merseyside is not immune from such instances of abuse, and last year a weekend of fixtures was cancelled due to “multiple incidents of inappropriate and threatening behavior” in the period immediately preceding.

While many of us complain about perceived incompetence amongst officials at the highest level, we all must agree that it’s much harder to recruit and train competent professionals if a hostile environment is maintained at even the grassroots level.

Mark Bullingham, the CEO of the FA, commented on the trial, emphasizing that, “Referees are the lifeblood of our game and we thank the IFAB for their support in allowing us to undertake this new grassroots bodycam trial, the first of its nature globally.”

The use of bodycams is intended not just as a record (and thus for accountability), but also to allow for more peace of mind on the part of referees themselves.

The cameras can be activated by the referees taking part in the trial, giving them a means to record interactions when they feel unsafe or unfairly treated. Importantly, the cameras will record from the moment of activation but will have also captured the 30 second prior to activation. This should account for delays in activation and provide more context to these recorded segments.

Sophie Wood, a 24-year-old FA Referee who also holds an MA in Sport Development and Management, commented on the trial: “I can relax a bit more going into games knowing that if conduct was to start breaching that line, I’ve got the safety blanket of the camera to deploy if things ever did get that bad for me.

“It’s made players think about their behavior even before stepping onto the pitch.”

Efforts like this trial will hopefully make it easier for young referees, particularly those from underrepresented groups — who are more likely to be singled out — to progress in the profession.

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