Professional Referee Organization created to manage officials in North America


Congratulations to the USA and Canadian soccer federations for creating and forming the Professional Referee Organization (PRO)  on 6 March 2012. Their goal is simple: to set worldwide standards in football officiating. Heading up the PRO structure is English Premier League referee Peter Walton, a veteran of nearly 200 English Premiership matches since 2003.

The 52-year-old will assume the new fulltime post of General Manager of the organization. His appointment starts on April 2 and he will be based in New York City throughout the Major League Soccer (MLS) season.

Peter Walton heading GM PRO
English referee, Peter Walton, the GM of newly created Professional Referee Organization (PRO) from April 2012 in the USA & Canada

The PRO will incorporate several of the new initiatives introduced last year – a referee command center in New York, the use of video analysis, real-time evaluations of match officials and in-stadium professional match evaluators.

The PRO model allows for more financial funding toward the referee program, hiring of more experienced technical staff to educate  referees, increased training opportunities for officials, additional identification and training opportunities for up-and-coming officials and increased investment toward sports science.

“We’ve always understood that the development of referees is an important aspect to the growth of the game in the United States,” said U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati. “PRO is another step toward the improvement and professionalization of our top referees. With the additional resources and funding provided by the formation of PRO, we will continue to build upon the progress we’ve already made.”

Said MLS Commissioner Don Garber:  “Thanks to collaborative work with U.S. Soccer and the Canadian Soccer Association, officiating in MLS made significant strides forward in the past year. The overall level of MLS refereeing is good, and the creation of the Professional Referee Organization is the logical next stage of development. MLS and U.S. Soccer proudly welcome PRO General Manager Peter Walton, who will utilize his exceptional experience as a referee and as an administrator, along with substantial resources, to help MLS achieve its vision of setting the worldwide standard in officiating.”

U.S. Soccer and Major League Soccer (MLS) took significant steps in 2011 to create a U.S. Soccer professional referee department and relocate to New York. Seven new rookie referees were introduced to MLS last year, participating in almost 20 percent of the league’s regular season games. The use of quantitative analysis and video were used to evaluate USA referees  in real time at the newly constructed referee command center in New York, helping upcoming and existing referees substantially.

Approximately 45,000 new referees enter the officiating ranks every year in the United States, and U.S. Soccer Federation will continue its efforts to put more online educational resources at their disposal. A PRO Advisory Board also will be established as Peter Walton, and other members, will meet regularly to monitor the progress being achieved by referees.

Having the political will, forethought, managerial skill and acumen, a sense of pride in officiating excellence and actively supporting match officials 100% in becoming professional full-time, as well as the business acumen to formalize the pro referee structure in such a relative short period of time is an example for all countries, not least my country, headed by the South African Football Association (SAFA).

As one learned soccer scribe was quoted succinctly in an European football magazine on the still-born South African pro referee structures, dormant for the past few years:

It is essential for the credibility of the game to keep up officiating standards, but attempts to bring in professional refereeing remains stymied by a power struggle between the South African Football Association and the PSL.  SAFA control refereeing and want to keep it so. But they have no money. The PSL [ Premier Soccer League] have the money to pay salaries and set up structures but obviously want the control if they are to spend the cash.  Talk of a professional [referee structure] has been going on for years now with little progress.  It is time SAFA and the PSL set aside their political cat fighting and work together on this urgent matter.

Let’s hope SAFA and the Premier Soccer League (PSL), the entity that manages the top two leagues in South Africa, can get their act together to follow the USA example. Soon, before this decade is out.