As the start of the local football season looms, concerns of a football referee shortage in the Nepean/Blue Mountains district appear to be dissolving.
For the past 50 years, football matches have been covered by the Nepean District Soccer Referees Association (NDSRA).
But in October last year, the Nepean District Soccer Football Association decided to replace the NDSRA with a new in-house referee group known as the Nepean Referees Group, due to long-standing “differences”.
Members of the NDSRA believed there were only a handful of qualified referees in this new group, nowhere near the 150-170 referees required to cover all the games.
Under NDSRA’s watch, “nine games out of 10 have been covered by official referees”, said NDSRA president Terry Malecki.
The remainder are covered by “club referees” who have had some training and can referee under 10s matches, but are not considered official referees or certified under Football Federation Australia.
Nepean Referees Group manager Graham Chapman disputed the percentage of games the NDSRA had covered, saying it was more like 65 per cent, and added: “I’m confident if the figures are maintained we will meet that percentage rate, if not better.”
Last week he had almost 70 qualified referees signed up, and another 45 were either going through the referee process or were keen to learn.
Chapman expected to have at least 100 qualified referees on the books for the season’s start at the end of March, citing a strong recruitment program in schools and football clubs.
“This is opening up a world of opportunity for kids wanting a career in refereeing,” he said.
The NDSRA, which would not tolerate their referees being abused or assaulted and would not assign a young referee to a “difficult” club, has also been concerned about the welfare of referees in the new group.
“We fear they will send whoever they want [to whichever game] and if they don’t go they will get fined and if they do go they could get abused,” said NDSRA management team member and welfare officer Bob Millevoi.
Chapman said young referees would be looked after.
“If a 14 year old is refereeing for the first time ever they won’t be given games over under-12,” he said. “Young kids won’t be on all-ages matches.”
A Football NSW (FNSW) spokesman said the organisation had been working with NDSFA and NDSRA for over two years to create a positive environment to recruit, train, develop and appoint quality referees to football competitions in the Nepean district.
“After considerable effort by both FNSW and NDSFA to attempt to resolve the differences with NDSRA, it was decided that NDSFA would terminate its arrangement with NDSRA,” he said.
FNSW is confident there will be sufficient referee numbers to cover the games, and with the NDSFA, would “provide assistance where necessary to ensure sufficient referee coverage in the Nepean region”.
The FNSW spokesman said discussions between the parties had failed so the NDSFA has undertaken the responsibilities to train, develop and build the refereeing programs in the Nepean.