The Football Association [The FA] has launched a new mental health champions scheme, to provide advice and support to referees and match officials across the grassroots game.
The launch comes as the nation prepares for Time To Talk Day on 4 February, with open conversations about mental health being more important than ever during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The transformative scheme, believed to be the first of its kind for grassroots match officials in any sport, aims to create an open environment so that referees and everyone involved in the referee community can talk openly about mental health and be supported.
As a founding signatory of the Mental Health Charter for Sport and Recreation and the Heads Up Mentally Healthy Football Declaration, The FA has worked closely with Mind to co-design the mental health champion role to help tackle the stigma of mental health within refereeing.
As part of the scheme, 20 volunteers from within the grassroots refereeing community will champion the importance of mental wellbeing, encourage conversation and act as a point of contact for any match officials experiencing mental health problems, helping to signpost towards professional support services if required.
The scheme is being piloted in 11 County FAs across the North of England and the Midlands and all volunteers have received mental health awareness and champion role training. The intention is to expand the scheme nationally during 2021 and it is open to referees and match officials over the age of 18.
Richard Glynne-Jones, FA National Referee Manager said: "The mental health and wellbeing of people is more important now than ever, and The FA is committed to putting important steps in place to support our grassroots referees and match officials. This scheme will help create a culture that promotes positive mental health amongst our refereeing community, encouraging honest and open conversations and breaking down the historic stigmas to inspire positive change. We are grateful for the support of the 11 County FAs involved in driving the pilot forward and we look forward to working with other County FAs on this over the course of the year.”
Hayley Jarvis, Head of Physical Activity for Mind, said: “Mental health is gaining increasing visibility in football, which is hugely encouraging. But while the mental health of fans and players is now being talked about more than ever, it’s vital that we address the wellbeing of everyone involved in the game, not least referees, who face a unique set of challenges that could affect their mental wellbeing. That’s why we’re delighted to be working with The FA, and our training partner Washington Mind, on this ground-breaking scheme to support the mental health of grassroots referees and match officials across the country.”
Tom Elliott, Referee Development Officer for Manchester FA, said: “I am really pleased to be able to announce our involvement in this vitally important project. Mental Health is obviously of high importance to us all, especially given the current circumstances. Refereeing has always had a fantastic sense of community among peers and it's been great to see our 3 'champions' step up to be part of helping Manchester FA lead in this area of work. Refereeing is undoubtedly a challenging role, but with new initiatives like this we hope to be able to support all of our member referees in Manchester.
The County FAs involved in the pilot are:
Sheffield and Hallamshire