A major soccer tournament for women and girls has been cancelled this summer in Wolfville, N.S., due to a shortage of referees.
The Gunn Baldursson memorial tournament, named for an Acadia University student and standout soccer player who died in a car accident in 1987, normally attracts hundreds of teams to the Annapolis Valley.
Tournament organizer Dwight MacLeod said many soccer refs haven’t returned after the hiatus brought on by the pandemic.
MacLeod said some are simply enjoying more free time in the summer months. But he said some are also taking a break from angry soccer parents.
‘That’s it, we’re done’
“Some of the older ones have just said, ‘That’s it, we’re done,'” MacLeod said, “Some of the younger ones … they said, ‘You know what? We’ve had two years of not being yelled at. And it’s kind of nice!'”
MacLeod said he sympathizes with the refs. They get paid $20-$30 per match and often have to run as much as the players.
“You get a bunch of parents or players or coaches yelling at them the whole night,” he said. “That’s not a good feeling.”
The referee shortage isn’t just affecting tournaments, according to Carman King, referee development officer for Soccer Nova Scotia.
Fewer refs to go around
King said there are normally roughly 400 qualified soccer refs and 150 trainees at the beginning of a soccer season.
There are only 250 experienced referees available this year.
King said finding referees for league play is just as difficult as meeting the demand for tournaments.
He has the same explanations why refs are deciding to hang up their cleats.
“Many of those people have chosen family over refereeing, and they’ve found that they have more free time and they spend it on family and career, this type of thing,” he said.
“Some people have chosen not to return because they no longer wish to take the verbal abuse that goes with officiating, sadly,” King said.
MacLeod hopes that the cancellation of this year’s Gunn Baldursson tournament will spark wider support next year. The tournament ran every summer since 1988 outside of the pandemic.
‘A very difficult decision’
“Hopefully people will realize what they want, what has been lost this year,” he said.
MacLeod is also hoping Soccer Canada will crack down on verbal abuse of referees, which might bring more officials back to the game.
“We had to make a very difficult decision,” he said. “And it wasn’t fun to make.”