Football Wagga Referees Branch coordinator Jason McKenzie has resigned from his position with "mixed emotions" saying he is concerned for the future of soccer in Wagga.
McKenzie's concerns come following the deterioration of the branch's relationship with Football Wagga, as local referees opt to take on games elsewhere due to what they say is ongoing poor treatment.
After holding the role for 10 years, McKenzie informed clubs and the board of his resignation last week.
"While I hold great respect for each person's unique perspective, I have found it increasingly difficult to work harmoniously with some members who do not align with the values of professionalism and integrity that have guided my service over the years," McKenzie wrote in his letter of resignation.
McKenzie said strained communication and a lack of respect were key factors in him stepping down from the role.
Concerned for the future of soccer locally, he said players, clubs, referees, and the board all need to make conscious efforts to get back on the same page.
"Primarily I think it's communication and the transparency of communication needs to improve," McKenzie said.
"There's no point investing in a relationship in any way or form if there's not open communication and transparent communication from both parties.
"You can't do anything if you don't work together towards a common interest, and I'm sure we all have a common interest in football.
"Through no lack of effort from myself or the standing committee that was present, we all attempted to communicate and have input and guidance, but that's failed and it's an untenable situation for me at the moment."
Unable to pinpoint when the relationship began to slip, McKenzie said the relationship has come to a head in the past 12 months.
Hoping to see trust rebuilt between referees and the board, McKenzie knows there can be no overnight fixes.
Without greater respect for referees in coming seasons, he's concerned there won't be enough left to cover local games.
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"The trust of the referees has got to be maintained, when I say maintained, I feel it needs to be rebuilt, the trust between referees and the association is at an all time low," he said.
"I've not seen it, in any association, so low before, and that's not just a one person thing, not just a board thing, that's an over all respect thing.
"We need respect for the game, other human beings, and their opinions and beliefs."
Already aware of at least three referees who will not be available for Football Wagga games in 2024, he said a lack of on and off field respect is driving officials away.
Watching dissent calls increase in recent years, McKenzie said referees are being forced to take rounds off to recover from burnout following abuse in games.
"It's just becoming systemic, that people don't respect other people's opinions," McKenzie said.
"There are certain aspects of the competition in relation to the senior competition, the juniors it isn't increasing as much but there is a trend upwards for this sort of behaviour, because they're going to emulate what they see.
"So yes, there is a trend up [in dissent], most of those are trivial little things that escalate into dissent, which the referee acts on, into something that's offensive or insulting and then [the referee] issues a card.
"Most of what we're talking about is dissent towards officials, things like 'what the f--k are you seeing', 'what f---ing game are you watching', 'you're f---ing useless', it's profanities with a statement, that are directed and intended to be insulting towards match officials.
"There are statistics that show from last season to this season there has been a 300 per cent increase in the rise in these instances, recorded by yellow cards, and that's not taking into consideration that some of these referees don't feel supported by the association, so they're not recording it by giving cards out, they're just taking it or ignoring in, and when they do that, after a week or two they've reached the end of their rope and they have to have a week or two off."
It's not just a Football Wagga issue though, with McKenzie raising concern that it's culturally acceptable within the sport to abuse referees.
Admitting he doesn't have the answers or solutions to fix the snowballing issue, he did call on clubs to accept offers from referees to provide additional training.
When the laws of the game and local association rules have contradictions, referees are being asked to officiate grey areas, he said.
By inviting referees into clubs, he believes players and coaches will be better informed of how certain aspects of the games will be officiated, ultimately reducing referee abuse.
Starting small and working up, McKenzie said better policing things such as exclusion zones and technical areas would be a stepping stone towards a safer and more enjoyable experience for all involved.
While there continues to be strain between the two parties, he said he isn't confident in the future of local soccer.
"There's got to be open communication between one party and another, and absolutely be in sync," he said.
"Whether they agree with each other or not, it doesn't matter if mum and dad are fighting, as long as you both get the same message down to the kids, then everything's harmonious.
"Whenever one person is not talking to the other, it becomes untenable."
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