GRASSROOTS football in Cork is in danger after The Irish Soccer Referees Society (ISRS) Cork Branch outline the possible repercussions should referees continue to receive unacceptable behaviour and abuse during involvement in matches.
At a meeting with the Cork Grassroots Football League, the ISRS expressed its concerns regarding the falling trend of referees available on a weekend, with on average 75 referees being available.
The ISRS Cork Branch anticipate that they will lose up to 43% of its members over the next three to five years, and with fewer people inclined to become referees, there is a real danger of shortage of referees in the future.
The ISRS Cork Branch highlighted that the abuse and treatment referees are receiving whilst in charge of a game is the reasoning behind the lack of numbers available.
The ISRS Cork Branch has instructed its members to adopt a ‘’ in terms of abuse of match officials receive from players, officials and spectators, which could see games abandoned.
Following the meeting, the ISRS Cork Brank wrote the following letter to the Cork Grassroots League in the hope of resolving the issues raised.
"Secretary, I am writing to you following the recent meeting between your league and the ISRS Cork Branch.
"As discussed at the meeting, below is the age profile of our 93 members at present: five are U20, eight are between 20-30, 17 are between 30-40, 23 are 40-50, 24 are 50-60, 13 are between 60-70 while three members are aged between 70 and older.
"Of these 93 members, we have 10 Elite referees assigned to the League of Ireland and another 8 long term absentees due to injury – this leaves us with on average 75 referees on a given weekend (assuming full availability) to fulfil grassroots fixtures across the six leagues in Cork.
"In the next 3-5 years, we expect to lose up to 43% of our members due to retirement, injuries and other circumstances while the recruitment of new referees through FAI Courses provides, on average, five referees from each beginner’s course who remain active referees beyond their first year.
"For example, in the last 18 months, we have lost 23 referees and have only gained 12 new referees from various courses and transfers from other counties, which highlights the negative trajectory of refereeing numbers in the Cork area. We are anticipating a severe referee shortage in the next several years due to a huge reduction in the number of referees available and the ever-increasing number of fixtures that need to be staffed.
"Unfortunately, this issue seems to have become more prominent and has reached grossly unacceptable levels in grassroots football nationwide.
"As a result, we have issued a directive to our members operating across all leagues in Cork to adopt a ‘Zero Tolerance’ approach in terms of abuse of match officials by players, officials or spectators and have instructed our members to deal with any such occurrences swiftly and decisively up to and including the abandonment of matches if necessary.
"As we discussed during our meeting, it is in the best interests of everyone involved in grassroots football to try to improve this situation immediately and we welcome the support and co-operation offered by the League in this regard in terms of introducing new measures to help address the abuse match officials are subjected to in grassroots football and increasing the number of officials going forward.
"The ISRS Cork Branch would like to express our sincere gratitude to you and your colleagues for taking the time to facilitate a meeting with us and for the support offered to our members. We look forward to a collaborative approach to combat the issue of abuse of match officials in the future.
"Should you have any queries in regard to the above or anything discussed in our meeting, please do not hesitate to contact us.
"Yours in Sport, John Sweeney, Secretary, ISRS Cork Branch On Behalf of the Committee and Members of the ISRS Cork Branch."
Now the onus is back on the clubs, hopefully, they will be able to get their members, players and parents to follow the guidelines and that the referees are more protected going forward so that games can keep being played in the coming weeks and months.