Rise in referee abuse has Valley leaders calling for accountability

Posted at 5:06 AM, Jun 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-03 08:28:43-04

SCOTTSDALE, AZ — It's supposed to build teamwork, self-esteem and athleticism. But at times, foul words and physical fights are tainting youth sports.

Todd Sergi with the Arizona State Referee Administration sent ABC15 video from last year at a Scottsdale soccer field showing a coach taking a swing at a referee.

In another video, you can hear parents scream at a teenage referee before she breaks down into tears on the field.

"Then to have the director of coaching come on the field of play while she's in tears and verbally berate her and tell her she's not doing a good job and that she's not capable of doing this type of game, it was just so heartbreaking to see," Sergi said.

Sergi is a long-time referee and serves on the ASRA, a committee for US Soccer refs. He says that incident prompted them to create a system within the past year where refs across Arizona can report abuse.

They've since had 62 submissions, mainly about parents and coaches.

"Foul, abusive language, racist and sexist remarks," Sergi said.

But it's not just soccer.

"For us, it's basketball and football," said Arin Finger, franchise owner of i9 Sports, where thousands of parents across the Valley pay for their children to play recreational sports.

"Definitely within the last two years there have been more incidents I guess that have been reported back to me," Finger said. "We have in the past, black-listed parents, black-listed coaches from having them be able to sign up with our program and we're ok with that."

Finger and Sergi agree that mistreatment on the field has led to a high turnover rate for staff.

"(Your child's game) is definitely at risk of not being able to be serviced by a full referee crew let alone an experienced crew because we can't keep the refs long enough to train and develop them, to give them the tools that they need to be successful," Sergi said.

The issue has Kate Nematollahi with the National Alliance for Youth Sports calling for more accountability.

"Anyone who's owning those sports facilities, whether the county or city, they need to say ok, for sports in our community this is the focus. This is what would not be tolerated," Nematollahi said.

"Another state took it a step further and said "hey, if we have a report your club is in jeopardy of not having any spectators on the match for the foreseeable future"," Sergi said. "And honestly, I think we're almost coming to that point where we have to really take a hard look in holding parents accountable."