DES MOINES, Iowa (NMW) — Soccer is one of the fastest-growing sports across the U.S. and the metro is no exception. However, as more kids sign up, the sport is losing another important part of the game, referees.

Iowa Soccer Association CEO Dan Cataldi said the state has lost nearly half of the registered club soccer referees. It amounts to about 1,000 officials deciding to hang up their cleats.

He said the problem has gotten so bad games are being rescheduled or played without a referee.

Cataldi said the decline in referees is due to natural attrition that comes with older officials retiring. Some of it is also pandemic-related. People left and never came back. However, a lot of the decline is due to abuse from parents and coaches.

“Coaches and parents yelling at referees is the number one reason that referees leave the sport,” he said. “They don’t last very long when they’re trying to learn the sport, just like the kids are trying to learn the game and the kids are trying to learn to coach, but the parents invest a lot of time yelling at kids that are refereeing the game.”

To fix the problems, the Iowa Soccer Association announced a new initiative investing $250,000 over two years to recruit more referees. The goal is to recruit, retain, train, and support referees. It also hopes to promote more respect for officials.

“We’re investing a quarter-million dollars over the next two years really with the goal to get more referees, improve the respect for all involved in the game so we can keep those referees that sign up longer term so we don’t have to keep replenishing them,” Cataldi said, “I think one of the keys is if a new referee signs up and stays with the game for a long time, it means we need to find fewer referees in that pipeline.”

He said people interested in becoming referees can get more information on the Iowa Soccer Association’s website. Referees who sign up now will start training this summer to be ready for the fall season.