Legendary Touch Referees boss Ian Matthew still going strong after 45 years in the sport

Sept. 17, 2021 @ 0:00 UTC

He's been FIT's Director of Referees since 1999 and is a longstanding New South Wales Touch Association (NSWTA) Board member but Ian "Matto" Matthew has no intention of hanging up the whistle just yet.

The longstanding Federation of International Touch (FIT) Referees Commission Chair Ian (Matto) Matthew is a giant of the sport. He has been the FIT Director of Referees since 1999, a New South Wales Touch Association (NSWTA) Board member and Technical Director since 1999 and a member of the Touch Football Australia (TFA) National Referees panel since 1993. His list of achievements is seemingly never ending. He even has an award named after him- The NSWTA Referee of the Year Award became the Ian Matthew Medal in 2006. 

“I’ve been involved in Touch for pretty much 45 years. I started as a player, then a coach. I took up refereeing because you had to. Every team captain had to referee.” 

Matto became a graded NSWTA referee in 1985 and quickly rose through the ranks. He officiated at two Touch World Cups as an active referee (Gold Coast 1988 and Auckland 1991) and has attended nearly all of the World Cups since as either a Referees Panel member or as Director of Referees. 

Despite an involvement spanning nearly five decades, Matto is not slowing down, “I have a vested interest in the sport and where it’s going. I like designing new courses and seeing people improve. I’m a fan of the game. I like to coach referees to be able to deliver the game, to let the players play, rather than being like the police.”

Online courses have kept referees engaged 

Matto has been the architect of a revolution in the delivery of online coaching for referees during the COVID-19 pandemic. The refereeing courses he has designed and delivered during the pandemic will see hundreds of new refs officiating in FIT member nations all over the world going forward.

Matto is confident that online training will enable referees from a wide range of member nations to officiate at future World Cups, “We’d like nothing more than to see referees from countries outside of Australia, New Zealand and Europe, who have dominated.” In keeping with the pivot online, FIT has developed an intermediate level online course designed to equip referees with the skills needed to officiate at the top level, “Anyone who has attended this course and goes to the next World Cup will have a good understanding of the game.”

Culture change

The issue of referee retention is crucial for the sport of Touch because you can’t play without a referee. A number of years ago Matto detected a cultural issue within some of the senior ranks of refs that was not in the best interest of retaining up and coming refs, “We were getting feedback after our tournaments saying the top end refs weren’t engaging enough with the less experienced refs.  We had to break the barriers down and change our culture. Half a dozen of our top refs got together and decided the refs needed to be more inclusive, which has helped our international ranks enormously.”

During Matto’s tenure as NSWTA Referees Director, the state-based association has provided extra support to junior referees, “In NSW we have developed an elite youth programme. We have aligned mentors to the junior refs who help them to develop quickly and almost fast track them.” The desired change in attitudes seems to be happening, “It’s now a more inclusive culture where the refs are all supporting each other.”

Touch delivers camaraderie and friends for life

Despite all his achievements in Touch and the many accolades he has received, Matto retains a humility borne from a deep appreciation for what the sport of Touch has given him, “I’ve coached refs around the world, I’ve been around the world. The sport has taken me to loads of different places. It’s given me more than I’ve taken out, with the friends I’ve met and the camaraderie I’ve had.”