A trial allowing referees to wear body cameras in the adult grassroots game in England is now expected to start in the first half of next year.
The purpose of the trial is to act as a deterrent against physical and verbal abuse towards officials, which has become a cause for concern in the grassroots game.
Last week, a referee in Lancashire was assaulted, with local media reporting the official had been left with a broken nose, four broken ribs, a dislocated shoulder, a broken collarbone, concussion and whiplash.
The Football Association has confirmed it is investigating the incident in Lancashire. Last season, according to FA data, there were 1.1 ‘serious cases’ reported per 1,000 matches, covering assaults on match officials, physical contact or attempted physical contact with match officials and discrimination cases.
The FA anticipates the body camera trial can begin in the first half of 2023, but the PA news agency understands details around data protection and safeguarding are still to be finalised in its discussions with the game’s lawmakers, the International Football Association Board (IFAB).
Issues such as how permission can be sought from participants to be filmed, who will have access to the footage and any safeguarding implications are all still being worked through.
An FA spokesperson said: “The FA acted on feedback from the referee community by asking for permission from the International Football Association Board [IFAB] during the annual general meeting in June 2022 to trial bodycams on adult grassroots referees in England.
“The aim of the trial, the first globally of this nature, would be to explore whether the use of bodycams improves participant behaviour, while providing additional safety for match officials in the adult grassroots game.
“We will be tracking the impact of the trial on behaviour and, if it’s successful, will look to roll it out nationally and internationally. We are finalising the details of the trial with IFAB and further information will be communicated in due course.”
It is unlikely the FA will have any data related to the trial ready to present at the next IFAB AGM, which is due to take place in London next March; more likely it will be at IFAB meetings later in the year, such as the technical and football advisory panel meeting or the annual business meeting.
PA understands that, even if the trial proves a success in improving behaviour and enhancing safety, IFAB will be determined to ensure that the cameras are only to be deployed in grassroots football.
The game’s lawmakers do not want to see the cameras used in top-level football by broadcasters wanting to provide a different insight into what is happening on the pitch.
The FA launched its ‘Enough Is Enough’ campaign to address behaviour within grassroots football last month, setting out that any unacceptable conduct will result in action being taken.
The FA’s refereeing department and county FAs will offer support to any victims of a physical assault, while regulations around offences against match officials have been strengthened and increased since the start of last season.
Guidance to disciplinary panels changed to encourage them to gravitate towards the higher end of sanctioning for physical contact or attempted physical contact, with the upper end of the current range increased from 182 days to two years.
The recommended entry point for disciplinary panels is now 182 days, and anyone serving a ban cannot return until they have completed an education course.
The sanctioning guidelines for assaults that cause serious injury are to impose a ban of between five and 10 years, subject to aggravating and mitigating factors.