St. Louis Sports Commission wants fans and coaches to stop bullying referees

Published: Aug. 23, 2022 at 8:11 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - A shortage of referees in youth sports was primarily led by trends of abuse toward referees. In response, the St. Louis Sports Commission is requesting fans and coaches to “let ‘em play.”

The goal of the message and new initiative is to get parents, fans, coaches and players to back off referees and “unsportsmanlike behavior toward officials is unacceptable.” This comes after a somewhat aggressive trend we’ve seen in St. Louis and across the nation.

According to the National Federation of Sports Officials, 80% of new referees quit within two years due to rude or abusive parents and coaches. Of the 17,000 refs surveyed, the study found 75% cited rude or abusive behavior by parents and coaches as their reason for quitting.

The “Let ‘em Play” program will put messages like “Respect the Ref” around the St. Louis metro starting with the soccer season.

“Having been a soccer parent, coach, and volunteer youth club administrator for over 20 years, the challenges of the game atmosphere for soccer referees have escalated to the point where we simply don’t have enough referees for kids to play,” St. Louis Sports Commission Vice President Chris Roseman said in a press release Tuesday. “The Let ‘em Play program will have a positive impact on civility at the games with the intention of keeping referees on the field and improving the game experience for all.”

The initiative wants to remind people referees are important not just to enforce the rules of the game, but are also essential for player safety during games, including protection from rough play and spotting possible injuries.

“The Let ‘em Play program provides a constant reminder to parents and coaches that referees are human beings doing their best, and even if they make a mistake, they do not deserve abuse and vitriol,” Johann Arnason said, the executive director of the St. Louis Youth Soccer Association. “Respecting and supporting referees is critically important to the health of our game – if there is no referee, there is no game.”