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How COVID-19 pandemic affects referees

The aftershocks of the COVID-19 pandemic on the country’s economy are beginning to hit the already fragile state of high school and youth referees.

The number of sports officials is decreasing nationwide, according to Ohio University’s Online Masters in Athletic Administration program, with a lack of a youth movement, low wages, unfair working conditions all aiding to the shortage.

But with the lockdown and suspensions of youth sports and high school athletics across the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is the referee shortage going to affected once again? According to a story published in Wisconsin Sports Network, Ken Koester, a Milwaukee-are resident with heavy ties to the National Association of Sports Officials (NASO) and Referee magazine, sees two potential problems with keeping officials safe.

“One is whether or not the leagues will adopt and publicize provisions to enhance the safety of officials,” Koester told WSN. “The second major concern is that as officials we aren’t given a host of additional safety duties. For example, in basketball, some officials believe we’ve turned into the ‘uniform police.’ Why is that? The reality is that the teams weren’t able to follow the guidelines and rules so it got put onto the backs of the enforcement division. We cannot allow all of the efforts of disinfecting game balls, wiping up floors, policing social distancing on the benches to fall on the backs of the officials. We already have enough on our plate. I’m concerned that will happen.”

Another concern is that with the extended lay-off and the news that COVID-19 can greatly affect people above the age of 65, older referees may turn in their whistles and leave the official pool even more shallow.

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“We’ve got certain sports where the average age of the officials involved put them into the higher risk category as it relates to COVID-19,” Koester said to WSN. “Add to that, any other officials with underlying health conditions that don’t feel comfortable working and it very well could lead to some serious issues if we don’t bring enough new officials into the industry.”

To read the full story on how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting high school and youth referees from the Wisconsin Sports Network, click here