Thursday, January 26, 2012

University of Toronto Study: Canadian Hockey Referees Suffer Overwhelming Abuse, Violence, Lack of Support

An emergency medicine resident at the University of Toronto has recently released a study regarding violence and injury in Canadian hockey games, from the referees' perspective.

Published in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, the report is titled "Violence in Canadian Amateur Hockey: The Experience of Referees in Ontario," and was led by Dr. Alun D. "AD" Ackery and was co-authorzed by Dr. Charles Tator and D. Carolyn Snider.

In his abstract, Ackery described the objective of his study as a means "to determine the perceptions and roles of referees about violence and injury in hockey games."

The web-based questionnaire was issued to hockey officials across Canada from various leagues and levels of play, with 92 percent of responses coming from the Ontario area. The NHL prohibited its referees and linesmen from participating in the study.

The results were striking yet not surprising. The following is a list of key findings.

  • 92 percent of respondents indicated that they were the recipients of aggression and anger
  • 55 percent had officiated contests they believed ran out of control: the referee(s) lost control of the game.
    • 71 percent said this increased aggression towards officials increases injury risk to players or officials.
    • 63 percent believe the coach is most responsible for the conduct of his players and for managing on-ice safety
  • 80 percent of referees cited they enjoyed the exercise or ability to contribute to the game.
  • 62 percent enjoyed the camaraderie or "fellowship and friendship" that officiating can provide.
To improve safety in hockey, referees by and large suggest education and stricter disciplinary procedures and enforcement.

Among the injury and abuse stories shared by respondents includes a case in which an irate parent broke a referee's finger, a fan threatening to "carve out a linesman's eye" and an ejected player head-butting the official who had tossed him.

From what we have seen with the Umpire Ejection Fantasy League, most assaults and batteries toward umpires occur after, rather than before an ejection has taken place.

As a majority of referees, umpires and judges across most sports may attest to, aggression and anger toward officials is a problem that reaches far beyond hockey.

From the referee who has issued a technical foul in basketball to a head coach who has crossed the line, the line judge who has thrown an unsportsmanlike conduct flag in football for an inappropriate argument or the umpire who has ejected a manager in baseball for staying too long and making an on-field argument personal, that qualifies as enough to join the 92 percent of respondents in this study who answered YES to question No. 1.

In the end, Ackery believes, "Referees really need to be commended for a tough job that they've been put into in this instance."


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