British Officials Need Major Investment

Benjamin Franklin once said there were only two things certain in life: death and taxes.

British hockey can probably add a third item to that list – complaints about officials.

Guaranteed, every weekend, there will be at least one gripe about a call, a referees performance or the general standard of officiating in the UK. And while some complaints can inevitably be dismissed due to a healthy slice of ‘home town’ bias, or a basic lack of understanding of the rules from the plaintiff, it should not distract from the wider issue – British officials are under supported and short staffed, and have been for too long now.

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British hockey has its share of problems – some big, some small. But the lack of care and attention officiating has received over recent years is one of the most worrying.

It’s a very simplistic view, but it’s true – ‘no ref, no game’. And many of the problems we see in this area of the British game come back to that one simple phrase.

There has been a shortfall in officials for some time now. While the EIHL toys with its ludicrous system that allows the home team whether it wants to pay for four officials or three, other leagues games struggle to field a basic ‘one ref, two linesmen’ setup.

Quite how the sport here has allowed itself to get in this state is sometimes beyond belief, with the lack of available officials leading to rapid acceleration without adequate support, training or experience to fairly allow our officials to progress.

It leads to frustration for all – clubs, players, fans and the officials themselves.

Poor recruitment efforts in previous years have certainly not helped – but it’s just as easy to question what is being done now to rectify things. The EIHA run a free Level One Seminar, of which there are currently none planned…

Even if someone completes the seminar, they then need to pay £52 (or £32, if they’ve already paid another EIHA registration fee…). Add on top of that the refresher courses, annual seminars and additional training events that too often have been paid for out of the officials own pockets, and you can start to understand why so few take up the whistle.

Add in the questionable remuneration they receive for their services, and you might be forgiven for wondering why some do it at all – once you’ve factored in time on the road, time at the rink, equipment and miscellaneous costs (such as adding several thousand additional miles on to their cars) and the ‘hourly rate’ the vast majority of officials in the UK actually take home would leave employment lawyers howling about exploitation.

And that’s without mentioning the routine abuse many receive from players, fans and club officials.

Getting swept up in the heat of the moment is one thing, something most officials accept as part of the game, but some of the vitriol spouted is truly mind boggling at times. The cost of a ticket does not give people the right to make insinuations about the referees mother at will.

And so those hardy few we do have are expected to take on an ever increasing work load, whilst facing the same problems year in year out, and attempting to hold down some semblance of a normal life outside of the rink. Because the logic of the British game dictates semi-professionals should act entirely professionally without similar respect going back the other way.

It’s an area of the game massively under funded and under supported, kept a float by some of the hardiest individuals you’ll meet (because oh boy do you need a thick skin to pull a striped shirt on!).

Officiating standards in Great Britain are continually derided by so many, few of whom offer a solution or a desire to help change things. Numerous players have decried the standards of officiating here, including Theo Fleury (simply put, the best player to ever play here), but no one took heed – it’s something that actually discourages some from coming to the UK.

Import levels are discussed and adjusted, TV deals celebrated, on ice success stories cheered – but this fundamental part of the game has been largely ignored.

There is no quick fix – you can thank the recruitment short fall of the past few years for that. But equally it’s something that can be fixed, with investment, with time and with support.

The whole of the British game needs to play its part in this though – because it impacts on everyone from u10 to EIHL. The EIHA, IHUK, the clubs, the leagues all need to be on board, to support the program – and not panic and abandon it like they did the zero tolerance a few years ago.

The Elite League has said “there will be further investment in officials to continue to improve the current standard of officiating”; but if we want officials to act professionally and perform to a pro standard, comparable to other leagues, then those who don the striped shirts need the appropriate training and support to achieve that, and yes, perhaps the appropriate pay packets as well.

And as with so many things, that has to happen from top to bottom – not just for the small handful at the top of the Brit game.

There are options available, other organisations we could ask for advice or guidance – there are ways to fund it if people are committed to the program.

But leaving things as they are, hoping for some magical fix, is not an option.

British officiating needs investment. It deserves investment. And it needs to happen now.


About Rob

Software engineer by day, Elite League Media man by night, Rob also blogs about cricket for One Stump Short, hockey for In Goal Magazine and video games for Outpost Delta as well as hosting the One Stump Short Podcast.

Posted on January 16, 2015, in British Hockey, Hockey and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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