STOP the abuse and let referees get on with their job, or there will be no left and that will mean no games.
This is a plea from referees chairman Edwin McNally as the shortage of referees crisis in Cork is at its worst to date.
“There’s no easy way to say this and there’s no point sugar coating it – we are heading for a crisis in terms of referee numbers in Cork," said McNally.
"Every grassroots league has been affected. As things stand for the coming weekend across the six leagues in Cork (MSL, AUL, Business League, Youths, CSL, CWSSL), we have approximately 40 games that are unstaffed with match officials.
"If we are lucky, we might get that number down to around 10-15, but that’s as a result of spreading our current resources too thinly and our referees staffing four to five games over the weekend across different leagues.
“This isn’t sustainable as our referees will start to pick up injuries more frequently which will have a knock-on effect on the shortage, and that’s not even considering family time and personal lives and the sacrifices on that side of things.
"Unfortunately, this isn’t a short-term problem and it’s going to be a common theme every weekend of the season going forward.
“The one saving grace thus far has been that some of the Schoolboys referee panel has been able to staff games in the Schoolgirls League or Youths League or free up referees elsewhere to help out.
"That’s out the window with the return of the CSL fixtures as referees allocated to the Schoolboys panel must staff Schoolboys games before helping out in other leagues – this is the same across all panels of referees.
“Our plan is to paper over the cracks as best we can, but realistically we’ve run out of paper at this stage.
"On our referees committee we have assigned ‘Liaisons’ to each league who work with the fixtures secretary to try get unstaffed games covered. "We do this as a gesture of goodwill and co-operation with the leagues on a voluntary basis but it’s become a full-time job.
"Our liaisons have bills to pay and are employed full time like most people, so this is done on our free time and family time and the workload has increased to the stage where it's unmanageable.
"The number of games needing to be covered is frightening and realistically we will be handing games back to the league – despite our best efforts we can’t get all game staffed.
“There is a massive decrease in the uptake of people taking up refereeing. The conduct of individuals at matches and the abuse and poor treatment of referees by players, officials and spectators is mainly the reason for this.
"From every referee course you would be lucky to have 12 referees complete it and be allocated to a league.
"Of that 12, half will walk away within the first season because of the abuse and the commitment it takes to be a referee.
"Of the remaining six, if you could keep three or four in the medium to long term you would be doing very well.
“It all boils down to a culture of abuse which has become endemic in grassroots football – people turn up at games and think just because it’s a game of ball they can shout and roar abuse and insults at the refs.
"It wouldn’t be tolerated in work environments or even on the streets day to day so it shouldn’t be tolerated in football. Shouting and roaring abuse at a referee for getting a decision wrong is the equivalent of shouting and roaring at a player for misplacing a pass.
"As referees, we make on average 240 decisions per game – that’s one decision about every 25 seconds.
"If a player had that many touches or interactions in a game, they’d win the Ballon D’Or every year.”
So how much support comes from the FAI?
“While ultimately the buck stops with the FAI, it's not fair to single them out and demand they come up with solutions.
"It's going to take a joint effort from Leagues, Referee Bodies, the FAI and Clubs to collaborate and address this issue as its in everyone’s best interest to get the numbers up – the number of teams is only going to increase and as it stands our numbers are only going to decrease so it’s a deteriorating situation.
"To give the FAI credit, they did waive the referee registration fee for this season to encourage lads to come back for the new season but we could all do a bit more.
"Specific dates for Referee’s Courses and a targeted promotional/recruitment campaign would obviously help but there’s not much point organising courses only to cancel them because of a lack of interest.
"On the flip side of that then it’s hard to get people involved without a course to work towards so it’s a vicious circle.
"We’ve been meeting with the grassroots leagues recently and found them receptive of some of our ideas and in fairness they’ve come up with some good ideas to help the situation as well – its this sort of collaboration that’s needed to improve the situation.
“We’re doing what we can to get new referees – going to schools and we’ve set up a mentoring system where we pair a new referee with an experienced ref and we go and watch their games and give them advice.
"But we can’t fix it ourselves – we need everyone in grassroots football to step up and stamp out abuse of referees in the game - players, officials and spectators both at the game and after the game on social media.
“As chairman I have to say it has been the most challenging situation thus far.
"People forget that referees don’t start their day deciding they’re going to get decisions wrong in matches, or that referees have families and personal lives.
"Our referees go out and make an honest effort to do the best they can from whistle to whistle so the next time you’re about to abuse a referee, remember he or she has family at home, works a full-time job and their kids might see or hear the comments you make – and when you remember that you might think twice and leave everyone get on with the game.
"Otherwise soon enough, there will be no referees and then no games."