Technology helps protect elite officials from physical and verbal abuse – now body cameras can do the same for grassroots refs

The introduction of bodycams at adult grassroots level next year will act as a deterrent against growing number of assaults on match officials, writes Laura Lawrence.

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Body worn cameras will be trialled in the adult grassroots game across England from the start of 2023. The FA, who are working with the International Football Association Board (Ifab), took the decision following reports that 380 players received bans for attacking or threatening referees last season.

It’s been a known issue of grassroots football for years that referees are in an increasingly vulnerable position. While those refereeing at a higher level have eyes, ears and a panel in a video studio in Stockley Park, grassroots officials have no protection.

Take this incident from just last week. Greater Manchester Police have arrested a 24-year-old “on suspicion of the serious assault of a referee” during a South Lancashire Counties match between Platt Bridge FC and Wigan Rose. Experienced amateur ref Dave Bradshaw had to be treated in hospital for the “significant, but not life-threatening injuries” he suffered in the attack after showing a red card.

The referee’s injuries included cracked ribs, whiplash and concussion. While Bradshaw is recovering well, he took to social media to say that he’ll survive but his “confidence has been smashed to pieces”. Police have appealed for anyone with video or photos to come forward.

So, what could have been different if Bradshaw had been wearing a Body Worn Camera (BWC)?

BWC’s have been rolled out across blue-light emergency services over the past five years. Research and studies collated by the College of Policing point to fact that there is little evidence that BWC’s have a “significant impact on crime-related outcomes”.

But what they do is act as a deterrent. What the combined studies found were fewer complaints against officers because the introduction of a camera changed the behaviour of both members of the public and officers. What BWCs bring is an element of safety for the camera wearer and a level of accountability for their own behaviour.

It feels wrong that this should even be needed. It’s a game of local football. A hobby that is supposed to foster healthy social interaction. I also imagine those who detest surveillance culture and believe this impinges on their civil rights may have something to say about this trial.

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While the attack on Bradshaw might still have happened, there is a higher chance that the behaviour of the suspect would have been modified if the referee had been wearing a BWC.

Referees are never going to be free of abuse. I was at Hillsborough for the match where Paolo Di Canio shoved Paul Alcock to the floor in 1998. The theatrics were like a pantomime playing out in front of us, but Di Canio should never have raised his hands to the referee. It’s the law, he knew it and he paid a hefty price for his actions. After all he couldn’t complain, it was all caught on camera.

If grassroots referees are afforded this same privilege, we can only hope that it saves some officials from physical and mental abuse.

Follow Laura on Twitter @YICETOR

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