Referee bodycam trials receiving ‘positive response’

Following another weekend of bodycam trials for referees in four grassroots leagues in England, find out how it’s all been going…


As the trial of the use of referee bodycams kicks-off across four selected adult grassroots football leagues in England this season, we checked in with Dan Meeson, our head of refereeing, technical and development, to see how the trial is going.

Hi Dan, so what’s the referee bodycam trial all about?

So we’re currently trialling the use of bodycams on referees in adult grassroots football in four areas of the country: Middlesbrough, Liverpool, Essex and Worcestershire. We’re working closely in partnership with the local leagues in those areas. It’s something we’ve been talking about for some time, so during the IFAB AGM in June of 2022, myself, Mark Bullingham and Debbie Hewitt made a proposal for IFAB approval that England be the first country in the world to trial referee bodycams. It’s going to be something that we run throughout the remainder of this season and 2023-24.

How does the recording process actually work?

Reveal Media are our partners in the technology. The device itself is no bigger than a matchbox, and it’s portable, lightweight and fits under a magnetic harness on the referee’s shirt, so it’s very discrete.

In a practical sense, whilst always being on, the bodycams are not filming and storing up unnecessary footage throughout the course of the game. In line with the IFAB protocol, if a player becomes angry or aggressive during the game, the referee can push the button to start the recording – a little bit like how they work in the public sector.

When a referee presses the button, the camera has already recorded the 30 seconds preceding and that footage is automatically uploaded to a secure FA IT network. These devices are completely encrypted, so no referee can access their own footage and even if the device was stolen the footage couldn’t be accessed. The referee would report the game, tell us the minute an incident has happened and we then have the ability to extract that ‘flag’ in the footage to couple with the report of the referee. If a referee presses the button, the participant would see themselves on screen, so that’s quite a powerful reminder about their behaviour.

Dan Meeson has been speaking about the referee bodycam trial in English grassroots football
Dan Meeson has been speaking about the referee bodycam trial in English grassroots football

What’s the ultimate aim of the trial?

Our key aims here are to see if the deployment of bodycams improves the level of participant behaviour – participants being players and coaches – and to give referees that confidence and reassurance around their own safety and protection.

The challenge was to select four leagues that we thought were right for the trial. It needed to be a league that’s well governed, got a good volunteer base, with accurate records in terms of their misconduct because we want to compare and contrast. But we also needed leagues that have a healthy challenge for bodycams to go into. We’re in the early stages, we only went live seven weeks ago so those four leagues will carry on between now and the end of the season, and we’re doing some checks and balances along the way.

What’s been the response from referees, players and coaches been to date?

The response so far has been largely positive. I think the referees feel comfortable and they’re going into games with an increased level of confidence that if misconduct happens they can capture it. It’s no longer just the referee’s word versus the participant’s word – there will be some hard evidence. Clubs within the partner leagues who are part of the trial feel a sense of kudos that they’re involved, so it’s good for their profile too.

We’ve not had any incidents yet in which the referee has felt the need to push the button, which is interesting. That’s good in some ways, to say what these are being used for is largely preventative rather than a cure, but we almost need something to happen as a bit of a test. If the bodycams hadn’t have been there, we might have had one or two players who might have said something a bit differently to the referee but now they might think twice.

Grassroots referee Sophie Wood officiates the Manjaros Langbaurgh Division One match in North Riding between Redcar CF and the Southern Cross with a bodycam
Grassroots referee Sophie Wood officiates the Manjaros Langbaurgh Division One match in North Riding between Redcar CF and the Southern Cross with a bodycam

Could we see referee bodycams being used as standard across the English grassroots game from the 2023-24 season?

Next season we’ll continue with the trial with the four leagues. We might add another two or three leagues to that. We’ve got 100 referees currently using them in the trial – if we could double that by the end of next season, that gives us a fairly deep level of data and insight to present back to IFAB. Hopefully we can go to the 2024 AGM to say, in our view, these things have worked and here’s the evidence from our findings and key recommendations.

We’ve heard a lot about the abuse of grassroots referees recently. Is the introduction of bodycams a reaction to this and is the FA doing enough to ensure referees are protected?

Referees should be able to enjoy officiating without fear of intimidation or unacceptable abuse. Ultimately, referees are the lifeblood of the game – without them, matches cannot happen. We have listened to feedback from the referee community and the bodycam trial which we’ve been working on for some time, is one of a number of ways we are tackling the issue. We hope this will have a positive impact on the behaviour towards them.

Ultimately, it is the responsibility of everyone involved in grassroots football, from clubs and leagues, to players, coaches and parents, to protect the game and act in a responsible and respectful way. Our referees play a vital role in officiating matches up and down the country every week, and they should be truly valued for this. We’re determined to make sure anyone who acts inappropriately is held accountable for their actions.

More widely, the introduction of sin bins in 2019 across the grassroots game has also been working well and from the 2021-22 season, regulations around offences against grassroots match officials were increased.

This season we also launched our new Enough is Enough campaign which sends a clear message that unacceptable behaviours will not be tolerated and we’re currently working on a new FA Referee Strategy which will be the most comprehensive referee strategy that we’ve ever produced, focused on the grassroots game. We look forward to announcing more details on this soon, so watch this space.

Chris Swoffer – The FA

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