Referee shortage could impact soccer players

Referee in Windsor, Ont. on Saturday, April 30, 2022. (Bob Bellacicco/CTV Windsor)

One word comes to the mind of Wayne Sharp when thinking of what the summer may hold for soccer players across the province — “scary.”

Sharp is a provincial instructor with Ontario Soccer and worries about a current shortage of referees.

It’s a problem that is happening in soccer centres in Sarnia-Lambton, Chatham-Kent, London and beyond.

“We're expecting the players and games to come back and we've only got half the referees we had in 2019,” Sharp said.

Based out of Chatham, Sharp says the number of referees currently available is under 50 percent from two years ago.

“In Lambton-Kent which covers Chatham and Sarnia, two years ago we had 185 and we're tracking to have about seventy or eighty this year,” he said.

In Windsor the numbers aren't far off.

“We usually have about three hundred refs to pick from. We're up to about 150 registered.” said Essex County Soccer Association president Joe Barile. 

And many of them are over 50 years of age with some in their 70's.

“It's hard. people have to take time off work. Guys are retired. We're missing all the young kids.” said Jake Damstra, a long-time ref.

His collegue Joe Prsa says refs could be on the pitch seven days a week if they really wanted. “Obviously we're not going to. I'm not in that kind of condition anymore.”

“We have a directive from Ontario soccer if we can't get three refs for a game we're allowed to use two refs so we're starting to think of things like that.” said Barile.  

Sharp warns players and games could be affected.

“Games that should have three officials on will only have one,” he said. “And there will be some that should have trained referees that may have a parent of coach doing those games.”

Thirty-five kids attended a referees clinic in LaSalle Saturday hoping to help alleviate the pressure and make some good summer money.

“I feel it would be a good job for the summer. I love the game of soccer. it would be a good experience to ref.” said Remy Hopogap.

Officials say there are camps coming up in Sarnia and London.

Anyone interested in signing up are encouraged to check out the Ontario Soccer website for more details.