originally posted at thestar.com
They have been spat upon, cross-checked in the head and sucker-punched. They have suffered sexual and homophobic comments and been grabbed by the throat.
Players have fired pucks at them and parents have threatened them, sometimes making good on their violent promises.
Those are just some of the incidents of abuse listed by hockey referees — almost all from Ontario amateur leagues — who took part in a survey whose findings are published in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine.
Some 374 of 632 anonymous respondents, 92 per cent from Ontario, listed specific examples that ranged from a parent breaking a referee’s finger to a fan threatening to “carve out a linesman’s eye” and an ejected player head-butting an official.
The study — titled Violence in Canadian Amateur Hockey: The Experience of Referees in Ontario — was co-authored by Dr. Charles Tator, a Toronto neurosurgeon at Toronto Western Hospital who is founder of the group ThinkFirst Canada, a charitable organization dedicated to the prevention of brain and spinal cord injuries.
The other co-authors were Dr. Alun D. Ackery and Dr. Carolyn Snider.
The study’s objective was “to determine the perception and roles of referees about violence and injury in hockey games.”
“We found that hockey referees in Canada perceived a lack of discipline and obeying of hockey rules leading to an increased aggression and injury,” the study concluded.
“Referees suggest that they are both physically and verbally abused. Referees feel that coaches are the most important individuals for determining player safety. This potential lack of respect and hostility for referees from coaches, parents, and fans creates an environment that may put all on-ice participants at higher risk for injury.
“These responses give new insight on the potential need to give referees more support, authority to discipline, and ability to educate participants with respect to on-ice safety.”
The authors used a web-based study, contacting 21 referees-in-chief from all provincial and territorial Hockey Canada organizations as well as several private adult hockey leagues from April 1 to May 18, 2010.
Nine agreed to distribute the survey link to their referees. The NHL did not allow its officials to participate, the authors said.