Respect programme has "fizzled out" – ex-refs' chief Hackett

FA criticised as new investigation highlights more cases of abuse and threats to grassroots referees

Respect barriers

Former referees’ chief Keith Hackett has slammed the Football Association over their Respect programme, which he believes has “fizzled out”.

As part of a damning investigation published by The Telegraph, Hackett says the FA “don’t have a handle” on the scale of the problem in the grassroots game, whilst a new survey reveals concerning levels of abuse towards referees.

The independent research into the experiences of more than 2,000 referees, carried out by three universities, reveals that six out of 10 officials experience significant verbal abuse at least every other game, whilst one in five say they have been the victim of physical abuse.

The Telegraph‘s investigation, which features case studies of three officials who have been victims of abuse or threats, will be of further concern to the FA, following after a number of worrying incidents in the grassroots game in recent months.

In November, officials in the Thames Valley Premier League went on strike in protest at a series of threats and abuse, including one assault and two abandoned matches, whilst in February the chairman of the Surrey County Youth League warned parents that someone could be killed if aggressive touchline behaviour continued to spiral out of control.

FA Respect logoThe Telegraph report that Hackett is “alarmed” at the situation and has written to outgoing FA chairman Greg Dyke, who will step down in July, to urge him to focus on the issue in his final weeks at the helm.

Hackett, who receives regular reports of abuse to referees via his You Are The Ref media channel, told Dyke that he believed the Respect programmes had “fizzled out”.

“I have been in the game since 1960 and I have no doubt that this is getting worse,” Hackett told The Telegraph.

“I don’t think the FA has got a handle on it. I think that refereeing within the football discussion is way down the pecking order.

“I think that is the same with the county FAs. There’s a good amount of revenue comes in from the fines they receive from discipline.”

The new research by Loughborough University, the University of Portsmouth and Edge Hill University, surveyed more than 2,000 referees on their experiences of the game. The results of the study will be published in full this year, but one researcher claims that the current levels of reported abuse represent just a fraction of actual incidents.

“What we are being told is that referees are often not reporting incidents because they are scared about repercussions, feel nothing will be done or they won’t get supported,” Dr Jamie Cleland, of Loughborough University, told The Telegraph.

“Many just want the match to end and then get out of there. It suggests that the actual reported number of incidents is the tip of the iceberg and not representative of the full scale of the problem.

“In terms of the Respect campaign, there have been some gains but there is a sense that it has run out of steam and is not being consistently enforced.”

Respect handshake

In September, Club Website reported that 57 percent of the grassroots community believed that behaviour had not improved since the Respect programme launched in 2008.

The Football Association remains committed to Respect and can point to an increase in referee numbers – from 23,000 to 27,000 – since the programme launched in 2008 as a marker of its success. They urge all referees to report incidents and state that serious physical abuse will be dealt with severely.

The FA’s own grassroots football survey, which published its results in December, found twice as many referees were satisfied with on-field behaviour (24%) and spectator conduct (26%) as there were dissatisfied (12% and 13% respectively).

They also found found twice as many referees (33%) saying they intended to be involved more in the future as those who intended to be involved less (16%)

“We haven’t taken our foot off the gas at all. It’s a long-term, ongoing programme,” Kelly Simmons, the FA’s Director of Participation and Development, told The Telegraph.

“When there is serious abuse, physical abuse, those responsible can expect a lifelong football ban – it won’t be tolerated,” she added.

The full report on The Telegraph’s investigation is available to read at

This article appeared in The Clubhouse – the monthly newsletter from Club Website. To get the best grassroots news, offers and competitions straight to your inbox every month, sign up today!

Dan Pope on LinkedinDan Pope on Twitter
Dan Pope
Writer at Teamer
Freelance writer, editor and copywriter, with a passion for grassroots sport. A right back turned football writer, Dan is the former editor of Club Website and has been lucky enough to work in the field of grassroots and community sport for the last 10 years.

Take the hassle out of organising your sports team with Teamer. Organise, communicate and take payments.


  1. Clive Jones on March 23, 2016 at 4:00 pm

    I totally agree with Keith. Respect in football is now virtually non-existent. Players of all age groups still abuse referees and that is why many youngsters don’t bother taking the whisle

  2. Kevin Stears on March 23, 2016 at 5:02 pm

    unfortunately it is still true. I have however noticed an improvement from the players but alas not from parents and in some cases some coaches. I have had discussions with parents who refuse to stand behind the respect barrier because “its an open field and ill stand where I want” A referee should not have to deal with abuse from the sidelines which the kids pick up on. In most cases it is easier for the ref to ignore it rather than appear (from the parents perspective) to be confrontational or to “pick sides” This is especially the case for younger referees. It it easier to control the game that it is the supporters. Coaches should give more support to refs when dealing with supporters

  3. Ian Eeles on March 23, 2016 at 5:42 pm

    Player behaviour needs to be tackled from the Premier League down. Players need to learn how to behave and referees need to sanction those players do not. The foul language and dissent shown by the professional players is disgusting and still the referees and the governing bodies do nothing. Grassroots players see the professional players as role models. If the professionals can behave badly without sanction then what do you expect. Dissent = yellow card. Do it twice and you’re off. I bet it wouldn’t take long to stamp it out if the referees had the balls and the backing.

  4. Mr brown on March 23, 2016 at 11:46 pm

    Players and parents abuse referees but thats because theres not enough investment in the control of games. Kids look at the premier league refs who supposedly were clamping down on swearing which you can blatantly see on the tv that they have not. Cards for diving are rare so low and behold the kids do it which infuriates players and parents. The FA are pathetic and always will be. Development at the root is needed. Punishment for breaking rules not praise

  5. M J Woodhams on March 24, 2016 at 12:17 am

    Not true-thee are new penalties on clubs under the Respect Programme theme and much more is being done to support referees in this area-mind you what do I know about it-I have only beeen refereeing for 53 years but do agree what everyone sees and hears on the tv in the professional game does not help those of us in the parks and schools each week.

  6. M J Woodhams on March 24, 2016 at 12:18 am

    Keith is wrong-there are new sanctions within the respect theme this season tackling these problems-but what do I know about it-this is my 53rd years refereeing-BUT I do agree what everyone sees and hears on the tv from the professional game does not help those of us in the parks and schools each week.

  7. Mr brown on March 24, 2016 at 7:50 am

    I have also been coaching for the last 15 years and see grassroots football to this very day. I watch amateur referees get abused by 10 years olds when making bad decisions and parents squaring up. Football has become crazy and on the topic bringing in rules that just confuse things dont help. Offside should be offside like the old days no confusion then. We have parent linesman who have to run the line. Surely making 1 decision is easier than making 2 ???

  8. john palmer on March 24, 2016 at 11:29 am

    i`m 52 and regularly ref on a Sunday locally and i see no difference at all most players don`t even know what the respect thing is. it is something that makes the county look good.The new thing with players being banned on a Sunday but not on a Saturday match banning system is rubbish The pitches are going downhill i see young refs going as quick as they can from level 7 to 5 and then don`t see them again once they get their level 4.this year i had a player spit at someone he got a 1 match all football ban a joke

  9. .. on April 1, 2016 at 11:58 am

    Sadly its true, I have been playing in the BGL for nearly 7 years and its sad to say even the girls league can be the same. Personally I find it so rude as the majority are only there to play a game that they love. Over the years I have played for a number of teams, but nothing was more prominent than when my dad managed the team. The lack of respect shown towards both refs, managers and coaches is shocking, it makes me want to hate the sport. Personally I feel that the players are influenced by what they see on the pitch from ‘professional’ players and their fans, a key example of this is the ‘singing corner’ at stadiums who set of smoke bombs and chants. How can you want them to behave, when this is the example they set.

  10. Timothy Felkin on April 15, 2016 at 9:17 am

    Football at the top level has to follow Rugby Unions example. The refs decision is final. It’s absolutely true that at kids level the players and parents are influenced by what they see players AND managers get away with on television. The solution is simple- argue with a ref or any of the assistants then it’s an immediate yellow card continue to argue and it turns red. Following this consistently across all top level FA games would see an almost over night change in behaviours. This would filter down. At grass roots level it then has to be the refs and team managers joint responsibility to control the kids on the pitch and the parents on the sidelines. Combine this with a consistent and open policy on what action is taken for any breaches.

  11. msb03 on April 15, 2016 at 10:48 pm

    Until the FA crack down at the top and have the balls to enforce the rules nothing will change. You have to go down the rugby route and have zero tolerance. It might make a few games at the start of the season finish with 7 or 8 a side but once they realize the FA are serious we might get back to proper football with sportsmanship rather that a bunch of cheating prima donnas

Join the discussion