Q&A with football referee Kaijing Mao

Kaijing Mao, 21, is currently studying medicine at the University of Bristol. He is also a Level 7 English FA referee and Chinese National second-level football referee.

Many Chinese students in the UK are football fans and watch live games, but Kaijing decided to get more involved in the game by becoming a ref.

Why did he choose this route, and how does he find refereeing football in China and the UK? Elephant Sport caught up with Kaijing for a chat.

When did you start refereeing football games?

I started when I was in my college, just for some informal competitions between students. I got my first official football referee certification at university.

Why did you want to be a referee?

I think it gives me a different angle to understand football. Besides, being a referee provides me chances to participate in some higher-level games – at least higher than games that I usually play.

What is the different angle of watching football that you have as a referee?

As a referee, I think I am a part of a game, so I can experience the match more closely than audiences. Also, I have a deeper understanding of the referee’s decisions and more empathy to referees when they deal with controversies than before. What’s more, I think my football skills could be improved through refereeing high-level games. Before I became a referee, watching football games is a happy and relaxing thing, and playing football is just for fun.

When I became a referee, I must focus on players of both sides and considering the opinions of other members of the officiating team. Sometimes I feel nervous, and sometimes I may feel the game is suffering and wish it could finish as soon as possible. Even if the game has been completed, it is still unavoidable for referees to hear complaints from coaches and players.

Have you ever thought that you are going to stop refereeing after being reviled by players or coaches?

No. I am an amateur referee at the moment so I am quite flexible to decide when and which game I want to referee. I haven’t been bothered by this kind of problem.

What certifications that you have got at the moment?

I have certificates in both China and the UK. I have certifications from the Chinese Football Association’s National second-level football referee programme, and I am also an FA Level 7 referee. I am still a grassroots ref.

What kind of games that you usually referee?

I have refereed in Chinese and UK’s amateur league games, youth games and university league games. I have also refereed Bristol City and Bristol Rover’s academies’ matches.

What difference you have found about refereeing games in the UK and in China.

I think in the UK, they have a more completed system for referees than in China. You can find a clear introduction and instruction about how to get training and promote to the higher level. In China, especially in amateur leagues, there are very few regulations and the authorities do not pay much attention to managing thosekind of games. So players usually do not respect referees very much because they know they will not be fined or punished. It is common to see referees being reviled in amateur football games in China.

What is the most difficult game that you have ever officiated?

It was an amateur league game in China. A massive conflict happened between players and referees during the match because of a disallowed goal. It happened at the end of a knock-out round match, and I was the second assistant referee. We were reviled by players and coaches horribly.

On the other hand, I think it showed that people have a strong bias toward referees. They tend to believe that referees are always partisan to one side. Compared to the UK, I feel players in Chinese amateur leagues show less respect for referees, especially for young referees like me. If players are older than you, then they will think you are not professional.

What have you gained from your refereeing experience?

I get to know a lot of friends by being a referee. Meanwhile, I think my social skills and my ability to deal with tough situations have been improved a lot through refereeing football games. After seeing so many quarrel and conflicts, some of them quite violent, I have become calmer. I really feel that my mentality is better than before. Of course, I also have received some novel understanding of the game.

What difficulties had you met when you started being a referee?

In China, it is hard to find out information about how to become a registered referee. There is limited resource of CFA’s training course, and the number of referees’ level is not as many as in the UK. That makes it difficult for referees to promote.

What is the future goal of your referee career?

Of course, I will try to improve my certification so that I can referee higher level games. The English FA has the requirement of the number of games for referees at different levels, and China has a similar condition. They have the requirement of time, so I need to wait for a few years after I got the second-level certification then I can apply for the first-level referee. The CFA also provides training lessons for being a first-level referee, but I always missed them because I was not in China.