A BRIGHT, new campaign is striving to end abuse towards referees in Cornwall while influencing a new generation to pick up the cards and whistle.
Cornwall County FA will receive more than 200 fluorescent armbands courtesy of the Grassroots Fund, which is powered by Utilita Energy and Team Grassroots.
Officials under the age of 18 will be encouraged to wear the band, clearly indicating their young age to players and those on the sidelines.
The aim is to eradicate abusive language towards referees, particularly those who are still children, and encourage more youngsters to become an official – especially given the current shortage across the UK.
Claire Summers-Evans, Designated Safeguarding Officer at Cornwall Football Association, said: "These armbands will be distributed to those young people who officiate Youth and Open Aged games in Cornwall.
“Abuse of referees is never acceptable, but it’s vital to highlight to coaches, players and spectators when their match official or assistant referee is still a minor and these fluorescent armbands along with our purple shirts for U18 referees will have a significant impact.”
According to national news stories, it is estimated the total number of refs in the country has declined from 33,000 to 23,000 in just five years – a fall of one third.
Research from the University of Portsmouth has also found a staggering 93 per cent of refs in England have been abused while officiating.
Paul Kirton, Founder and Managing Director at Team Grassroots, said: "It’s great to see the fund being utilised in this way – supporting our young referees has always been a key priority for us.
“Overtly placing fluorescent yellow armbands on our junior referees is a timely reminder to all present that these referees are children, and we expect them to be treated as such.
“We are delighted to be able to work with Cornwall County FA and Utilita Energy to support this great initiative.”
The Grassroots Fund, fully paid for by Utilita Energy and co-ordinated by Team Grassroots, provides a leg up to teams, leagues, and volunteers across the Beautiful Game.
James Heyes, Head of Group Partnerships at Utilita, said: "The referee’s job is never an easy one and without them, we simply wouldn’t have the Beautiful Game.
“We hope this movement will curb abuse from both players and the touchline, while ultimately encouraging a new generation to pick up a whistle.
“While Utilita is involved with clubs at every level of the game, our true passion remains at the very bedrock – the Grassroots community.”
Utilita is renowned for supporting football at community level. The energy supplier’s Football Rebooted campaign is now in its third year – a movement that allows anyone with spare boots to donate them and those requiring boots, including individuals, families, clubs or schools, can collect them.
There are now more than 500 donation points across the UK, found at stadiums, club stores and retail outlets, and thousands of boots have already been donated and claimed.