Bad sideline behaviour is making shortage of soccer referees worse

Soccer referees are in short supply in Calgary — and the Calgary Minor Soccer Association is concerned bad sideline behaviour is making the problem worse. The association has launched a campaign to encourage patience toward new referees.

Teal Shirt Campaign aims to encourage respect toward new referees

The Calgary Minor Soccer Association has launched the Teal Shirt Campaign. New referees are given teal shirts to remind people they're just starting out and might need some extra patience. (Shelly Priest/Eclectic Shots)

Soccer referees are in short supply in Calgary — and the Calgary Minor Soccer Association is concerned bad sideline behaviour has made the problem worse. 

The association hasn't had quite enough officials to meet the demand for years, according to association executive director Carlo Bruneau.

Coming out of the pandemic, the problem has gotten worse  — to the point where they have about 30 per cent fewer referees than they did pre-COVID.

"This is the first time we're really experiencing a real shortage where not every match, every evening, is being covered," said Bruneau. 

Carlo Bruneau is the executive director of the Calgary Minor Soccer Association. (Submitted by Leslie MacLeod)

Bruneau said some of the gap has been filled by the roughly 100 new referees who've completed the association's training course. The challenge now is to retain them, which can be difficult when new referees — some as young as 14 — have to deal with heckling and heated arguments from parents, players and coaches. 

It's hoped a new initiative called the Teal Shirt Campaign will help. The association's new referees are given teal shirts to wear during their first year on the job, to remind people who they are and to give them a little extra leeway. 

"We want to make sure that our community understands that they're part of the solution on building back the referee pool," he said. 

"The more we make it unappealing to be a referee, the less officials we're going to have." 

Player Georgia Simonot points out that many referees aren't much older than the players on the field. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

Players Georgia Simonot and Lucy Smith agreed bad behaviour can be a problem in soccer. Simonot recently finished a referee training course but admits she's a bit apprehensive because of what she's seen on the field. 

"A lot of disrespect toward refs, most games, which is really upsetting to see," said Simonot, 14. 

Soccer player Lucy Smith says people need to realize that referees are human and they make mistakes, too. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

Smith said a friend of hers quit a referee job because of the heckling she got from the sidelines. She said parents, coaches and players need to recognize that referees are doing their best — but may make mistakes from time to time.

"You have to be patient with them and respect them," said Smith, 15.

Soccer coach and parent Kara Patton thinks everyone should try refereeing a game of soccer to see just how hard it is. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

Parent and coach Kara Patton said aggressively questioning new referees isn't just disrespectful. It can cause them to second guess themselves — a problem when referees need to be in the moment and paying attention to all aspects of a game. 

"You just lose confidence and you can't do as good of a job," said Patton. 

Going forward, Bruneau said the association will keep an eye on its retention rates to monitor if the campaign is working. It will also pair new referees with mentors to guide them as they gain experience. 

As for Patton, she has a suggestion for people who are jerks to referees: try walking a mile in their cleats. 

"It'd be great community education if everybody had to go ref one game of soccer, and then they could decide how they approach the refs," she said. 


Paula Duhatschek


Paula Duhatschek is a reporter with CBC Calgary who previously worked for CBC News in Kitchener and in London, Ont. You can reach her at