Hate on the net and the problem of recruiting referees
The Twitter withdrawal of referee analysts Collina’s heirs caused discussions. The increasing hatred on social media is a problem for referees when it comes to recruiting young talent.
Felix Zwayer doesn’t even want to venture onto the minefield of social media. The well-known Bundesliga referee was never active there and has no intention of doing so.
Of course, the 41-year-old is still aware of the discussions about his craft on Twitter, Instagram and Co. – and sees it as an ever-growing problem for the future of his industry. “How are we supposed to win young people over when referees are being hounded on social media weekend after weekend without objectivity? That’s not very sexy. Young people don’t feel like it,” says the Berliner, emphasizing: “The inhibition threshold, at all to say I’ll be a referee has become enormously high due to the discussions on the net.”
When Zwayer started as a referee in 1994, there were around 80,000 referees in Germany. “Today we’re about halfway there. You can continue to calculate and ask yourself how long amateur football will still have referees. The development is devastating,” says Zwayer. Of course there are many problems, physical violence against referees, mainly in the lower leagues, is still the main problem.
“Problems for the referee guild”
But the development in social media should not be underestimated. After all, the young people there are increasingly pulling out their information that the German Football Association could gain as a referee. According to an evaluation by the Federal Statistical Office from the previous year, 78 percent of the 16 to 24 age group use social media. And according to the online study by ARD and ZDF, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok and Facebook are the most popular social networks for young people aged 14 and over. According to a study by the University of Leipzig, 24 percent of the 1,000 or so respondents from across society have experienced insults, threats or hatred online. Two years ago it was 18 percent.
With more prominent people, which referees are inevitable due to the increased TV presence, the proportion of hate victims is likely to be higher. “As long as referees – whether at amateur level or in the top leagues – are constantly criticized online and sometimes even insulted, it will remain difficult to inspire young people to volunteer and to motivate them,” says referee boss Lutz Michael Fröhlich.
Ittrich: “Set an example for respect”
So what to do? Patrick Ittrich has decided to take a counter initiative. The 43-year-old has been very active on Twitter since September 2021. “Why Twitter? Set a sign of respect for referees, also for the offspring,” he writes on his channel. Zwayer thinks Ittrich’s strategy makes sense: “It’s good when we referees are represented there and we are open and approachable. That helps to create understanding. To a certain extent, this works and Patti gets a lot of encouragement. Unfortunately, there is also extreme exceptions.”
Ultimately, the arbitrators have no choice but to rely on more transparency – and that’s what the industry wants too. On the one hand, more understanding for decisions should be created, on the other hand, of course, the next generation should be enthusiastic about the job at the whistle. The introduction has accelerated this development again. “To be honest, I think it’s amazing today how much refereeing decisions are discussed, how present the discussions are and how much space is given to them,” says Zwayer, calling for better cooperation: “But we referees ourselves are heard relatively little , people prefer to talk about us.”
Aytekin allows insights into a documentary
Another option would be for referees to give more insight into their job and life to put people first. This is what Deniz Aytekin did in a well-regarded ARD documentary two years ago. For Zwayer, this is a risky balancing act. “But the more I reveal personally, the greater the potential for attack. It’s a bit of a vicious circle. Many of us would like to speak more, but we’ve often found that people aren’t being listened to,” says the Berliner.
The fact that Zwayer isn’t on social media himself doesn’t keep the hate away from him. He had to find out last season after the game between Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich. Two penalty scenes had caused discussions, and the Dortmund professional Jude Bellingham had indirectly accused Zwayer of bribery with an allusion to the Hoyzer scandal. The referee received hate mail and, according to the police, even a death threat circulated on the Internet. Extreme cases, which will probably always exist.