In hockey, on-ice officials are needed to sanction a game, and their job is to make crucial calls on the ice, while still creating a safe environment for the players, and themselves.

Recently, an increase of maltreatment has entered into the game against referees, which in some instances has caused refs to walk away from the game entirely.

Earlier this year Hockey Canada introduced an addition to the maltreatment section into their rule book against discrimination to protect both players and referees from harassment, abusive, and disrespectful behaviour, and discrimination. Hockey Northwestern Ontario has adapted this into their playing handbook for the 2021-2022 season.

As a way to educate and inform the hockey community about maltreatment against referees and players, HNO held a maltreatment awareness campaign last week.

“The purpose of the campaign was to inform the Northwestern Ontario community of the rule changes, and also be a resource for highlighting tips and responsibilities regarding proper treatment for everyone involved from players to parents, to coaches and officials,” said Andrew Ktytor, HNO Marketing Specialist.

“We hope some awareness early in the season creates a positive culture trend ultimately making the hockey experience as enjoyable as possible in Northwestern Ontario,” Ktytor added.

Ktytor mentioned the response early on in the campaign has been very positive from the hockey community.

“A lot of people weren’t aware of some of the impacts that maltreatment has on some of the stakeholders of the game especially referees with the retention rates fluctuating over time,” concluded Ktytor.

Maltreatment includes volitional acts that result in harm or the potential for physical or psychological harm. Maltreatment in all its forms is a serious issue that undermines the health, well-being performance, and security of everyone associated with the game of hockey and is incompatible with the core values that lie at the heart of Canadian sport.

Bryan Graham is the Director of Officiating for HNO, and he says that the number one reason refs leave the game is due to abuse.

“It's a problem across the country and its something we’re trying to address, and I think the maltreatment aspect that Hockey Canada adopted will help in that situation to curb the abuse,” explained Graham

This season the organization has seen a 30-40 per cent drop in referees, only 165 refs signed up, which is almost 100 less from the 2019-2020 season where they saw 249 officials take the ice. Graham added that HNO has seen an increase in refs since maltreatment was adopted.

“We’ve done a really great job. Our referees and chiefs especially in our west zone in Dryden, Fort Frances, and Kenora so we have to make sure they have that protection, they know they will be supported when they’re on the ice, so we retain those officials cause that’s a big part of it. As we know if there are no officials, there’s no game.”

Information that Graham provided showed the average age of those becoming refs is 13-14 years old, but exiting the industry by 17-18 years old.

“We need to find a better way to keep them more engaged and keep them more involved in the game that it's an enjoyable experience for them. We understand officiating is a tough job.”

Below are some of the rules associated with maltreatment against referees. 

Section 11.2 Disrespectful, Abusive, and Harassing Behaviour states: A Misconduct penalty shall be assessed to any player or goaltender who uses disrespectful language or gestures directed to the Referee or any other individual. Any team official who engages in such behaviour shall be assessed a Minor penalty, rather than a Misconduct penalty.

Section 11.5 pertains strictly to the Physical Harassment of Officials:

Any player, goaltender or team official who, before, during or after a game:

(a) threatens the well-being of a Referee, Linesperson or any Off-Ice Official.

(b) attempts to strike a Referee, Linesperson, or any Off-Ice Official.

(c) deliberately touches, holds, or pushes a Referee, Linesperson or Off-Ice Official; or (d) deliberately strikes, trips or body checks a Referee, Linesperson or Off-Ice Official.

shall be assessed a Match penalty and the Referee shall report the individual(s) by completing a Game Incident Report including full details and submitting the Report to the appropriate Member or League delegate. Such player, goaltender or team official shall be suspended indefinitely pending investigation by the appropriate governing body.