Ricardo Portillo, a referee from Salt Lake City, Utah tragically passed away after being sent into a coma by a punch from a teenage player during a game. Mr. Ricardo Portillo, may you rest in peace and may your family and all others touched by your tragic death find peace. Mr. Portillo wanted to contribute to the betterment of his community by sharing his passion for soccer and refereeing youth soccer games. Like many referees that go out and officiate games every week, Mr. Portillo was focused on keeping the game safe and fair for players. Yes, there are only a few fatal incidents like the one that cost Mr. Portillo his life, but one is too many.
Soccer plays a critical social role in our communities, as it provides youth players with additional support from their families, coaches, referees and spectators in their development as athletes. Soccer also provides an opportunity for adult amateur players to experience a positive environment where teamwork and camaraderie come hand in hand. Overall, the beautiful game of soccer brings joy, teaches life core values and skills and provides a wonderful experience to those who participate.
Referees are part of the game and as such, they play a key role in keeping the game a positive experience for all. Respect for the referees is a must if we want to continue providing a great environment for families to enjoy and support their children’s development, and for adults to share their passion for playing and making friends. Signing up to be a referee is not very common and in fact, it is almost unnatural to want to be a referee because most people associate refereeing with yelling and other sources of abuse. Therefore, it is important that we support those who choose to become referees and help us enjoy the game.
The game moves so fast and in such unpredictable ways, that it creates many exciting and enjoyable moments, but it also challenges the human’s ability to see and evaluate incidents with perfection. The result is that referees and players will make mistakes during every match and we must accept this as part of the game. Even professional/international players and referees make mistakes. Referees are constantly improving their skills and getting experience, but the fact is that mistakes will be made. Don’t let this part of the game, or a disagreement with a referee’s decision, be a reason to disrespect them or worse yet, physically abuse them.
There are many things we can all do to support referees, especially in the amateur environment in both youth and adult games. Below are a few actions that we need to continue doing, and as such we can pay tribute to Mr. Portillo. If it is feasible within your tournament parameters, the next time you referee a game consider requesting a moment of silence before the start of the game in memory of Mr. Portillo.
Practical steps that allow all of us to take responsibility in keeping the game safe for referees and others:
- Everyone must respect the referees at all times, even when they make calls with which you disagree.
- The sooner an adult takes action, the easier it is to manage possible negative behavior.
- A player starts to act negatively:
- The coach should mentor him/her and if needed, substitute the player.
- When present, a parent or family member should connect with the player and take action.
- If needed, teammates should immediately restrain the player.
- Any player who threatens or is guilty of aggravated assault on a referee should be reported, so that the competition authorities can take the proper action.
- Communicate to the membership without revealing personal information, all actions taken to ensure players and referee safety.
- A spectator starts to act negatively:
- Other spectators supporting that team should ask him/her to stop the negative behavior.
- Remind the negative spectator about the concept of Kids Zone®.
- If needed, other spectators should immediately take action restraining the person if needed and calling the authorities when warranted.
- Training and awareness:
- AYSO integrates the teaching of core values, including respect within our programs.
- We implement AYSO's Six Philosophies as part of our Mission.
- We have the PIE principle - Positive/Instructional/Encouraging approach that we use to coach players.
We have Kids Zone®, a program which reinforces positive behavior through a list of nine directives that include, “Set a proper example for our children.”
- AYSO provides constant visibility of positive messages that support good behavior.
- T-shirts, banners, posters, etc. - all displaying positive messages.
- Reminders are provided periodically in meetings, at the fields, ongoing training, etc.
- Teams, players and team fans are recognized for projecting respect.
- AYSO encourages players, coaches and parents to take an annual reminder via a course that includes proper behavior direction and guidelines.
- Safe Haven provides training and awareness of proper conduct, which generates great results.
- Safe Haven also shares and encourages teamwork to generate a positive, respectful environment for players, parents, coaches, referees, volunteers, and all others that participate in AYSO.