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Top-down 'respect' programs: Do they really work?

Updated: Jul 24, 2020

Abuse of sports officials is generally perceived as a problem to most stakeholder across the industry, with perhaps the exception of spectators. Some football codes have developed top-down respect programs in an attempt to address this concern. The impact of such programs is widely unknown, mainly due to the measurability of success factors and the extraneous variables that are likely to impact outcomes of such programs. We looked at the impact of top-down respectprograms for two major football codes.

Both used strong media campaigns to launch the program which yielded positive feedback from many cohorts in the early stages. Anecdotally, sports administrators feel there were less issues of abuse when such programs were heavily promoted.

While there is some published data on the possible impact of these programs on sports officials through qualitative questioning (1, 2, 3) there is no published evidence to suggest these programs positively impact the retention rate of officials – a key objective of these programs until now (below).

Churn rate of returning officials from a major football code. There has been no change to the average retention rates of officials since a 'respect' program was implemented in 2010.

It is truly positive that sporting organization leaders want to drive programs related to respect of officials on match day, however, formative data suggests that programs are not as effective as hoped. It appears this funding may be better spent in the areas of officiating that matter most to officials, not administrators.

Reasons why respect programs towards officials may not be as effective as hoped:

  • Top down approach affected by multiple levels of governance

  • Broad program focusing on all stakeholders

  • Match day only focus

  • Any incident of abuse towards and official is unacceptable, however incidents involving abuse may not be as common as perceived

  • Research shows abuse is not the main reason officials leave

Aspects that may improve the effectiveness of related programs:

  • Programs with a focus on a specific target group – research show spectator behaviour is the greatest concern to officials

  • Programs focusing on providing supporting structures officials – lack of support is consistently the top reason officials leave

  • Programs that are whole-of-sport inclusive that assist officiating to become normalized (i.e. the shared-responsibility & engagement model)

Officiency Sport can help create a tailored program that is proven to increase the number of officials and improve the match environment.

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