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From Behind the Whistle

Guest Column
Galen McKinley

There are many things to complain about when it comes to the refereeing of IM soccer at MIT. One has to feel grudgingly lucky if even one of the 2 referees promised for a regular season game shows up, let alone the 3 that it takes to properly officiate a game. The referees are not trained well and likely have not read the IM rule sheet, let alone FIFA’s “The Laws of the Game.” Many calls are missed, and bad calls are made.

But now look at it from the point of view of the referees who do show up. The are unpaid for the regular season, and only minimally paid during playoffs (about $7.50/hour). They are basically volunteering because they like soccer and want to give back to the sport at MIT. They are part of the tiny minority of soccer players at MIT who realize that the only way for them to improve officiating is for them to pick up a whistle and accept the challenge.

And what do these referees get in return from the players? They get verbal and psychological abuse. They get put down and beaten up with words. They get told, “you suck,” “do you even play soccer?,” “you’re blind,” and “are you happy now that the other team scored?”

There is a distinction between an utterance in frustration during the course of a game and deliberate attempts to demean the referee as an individual. Clearly, moaning and groaning about a missed call or one that went the other way is part of the game; any referee knows and accepts this. However, yelling at the referee, “wouldn’t you rather go to the swimming pool instead of being here?” or stepping up to him or her at the end of the game to share one’s personal reflection that, “in my opinion, you are a horrible referee,” goes far beyond what is acceptable.

Further, some male players seem to feel women cannot be acceptable referees. I am female. In my most recent game, I disagreed with the other referee on only one call. Yet, the losing team attacked only me at the end of the game. They told me, “you suck,” “please don’t referee the final,” and “you should never do this again.” They said nothing to the other referee, a male. I have played soccer for more than 20 years; I have read the rules; and I am as qualified as any other IM referee. I cannot prove sexism, but I am confident that if I had a Y chromosome, they would not have assumed me to be unqualified to referee their game.

Unfortunately, there appears to be no good way to respond to a team for such unpardonable behavior. They will get an e-mail from the IM soccer managers, but likely their captain will just erase it. They will probably act the same way next time. There should be ways to further sanction these teams.

The only thing I know I can do is to write this column in the hope that future referees will be treated more fairly. I ask all IM soccer players to recognize that your referee is first and foremost a human being. They are striving to do a good job of officiating your game. Yet, they do not have 15,000 eyes or 15,000 angles with which to see every motion on the field. They will make mistakes, but they will try hard not to be biased. It does not matter whether they are male or female.

If you must give them advice, please don’t do it when you’re angry or frustrated. Recognize your own bias as part of a competitive athletic team. Like you, your referee is basically a well meaning, albeit imperfect person.

Finally, please think of your frustration the next time you hear that referees are needed for IM soccer. We can all learn something by picking up a whistle and spending some time on the other side.

Galen McKinley is a graduate student in the department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences.