WIAA tests out body cams for referees


The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) is looking at addressing sportsmanship problems at sporting events by having referees wear body cameras.

The eight-week pilot program, a collaborative effort between WIAA and Washington Officials Association (WOA), has seen 100 basketball referees across 11 counties in Washington wearing body cameras during high school varsity, junior varsity, C-team and middle-school games. The trial concluded after the regional round of the WIAA playoffs.

A 2023 National Association of Sports Officials (NASO) survey reveals an alarming trend with nearly 36,000 referees across all sports: Over half of the officials felt unsafe or feared for their safety during games, a 5% increase since 2018. 

Approximately 68% of referees believe sportsmanship is worsening at various levels, with 11% reporting assaults by fans, coaches or players — consistent with national trends observed in Washington.

There were 700 ejections in Washington during the last season alone.

The idea of equipping referees with body cameras emerged from the discovery of successful trials of the practice in English Football Association (FA) adult leagues. The decrease in abusive behavior among soccer referees prompted immediate interest from the WIAA.

After collaborating with U.K.-based body-camera manufacturer Reveal Media, the WIAA secured a deal to become the first U.S.-based athletics governing body to use Reveal’s KS4 camera. 

The lightweight and durable sports cameras, designed for police forces in England, were distributed to referees across major officiating associations in the state.

Referees wear the body cameras underneath their uniforms, with a magnetic attachment ensuring stability. 

The cameras are activated during technical fouls, instances of discriminatory behavior or when a referee perceives a threat, both on and off the court.

Despite preseason alerts to schools, some coaches were caught off guard by the implementation of body cameras. Referees noted the cameras were easy to wear but that it was tough to remember to activate them in the moment.

The WIAA plans to release findings from the eight-week basketball season at a June executive board meeting. 

Preliminary results indicate very few incidents during games officiated by referees wearing body cameras.

As the pilot program concludes, the cameras will be reassigned for spring sports.