Playing soccer is more popular than ever. In 2012, games sponsored by the Minnesota Youth Soccer Association drew the participation of 70,000 kids.

However, refereeing soccer is less popular than ever. Between 2011 and 2012, nearly half of all registered referees did not return.

Why? There are many reasons, but persistent personal abuse is a major theme.

It takes a special kind of person to be a referee, someone who is able to tune out the general complaints resulting from his decisions. However, no referee should be directly or personally abused, either physically or verbally.

Unfortunately, look at the cases of Richard Portillo (a Utah soccer referee who died after being punched by 17-year-old player), or Andrew Keigans or Jayme Ream (Florida youth football referees who were punched or beaten by coaches in separate incidents), Richard Nieuwenhuizen (a Dutch soccer referee who died after being beaten by a group of six players), Hector Giner Tarazon (a 17-year-old Spanish soccer referee who suffered a ruptured spleen after being attacked by a player), Carlos Bradford (a Nebraska basketball referee hit in the face by a parent in a church league) or Thomas Murphy (a New Jersey youth baseball manager who slapped a 17-year-old umpire).

This a problem. Love ’em or hate ’em, it’s not a game without a referee.

Victor de Meireles, Shoreview