As taking a full breath of air and blowing into a whistle may not be the best idea in times of COVID-19, leagues are in need of a solution to better equip their referees with a safer option.

The whistle has become the most recognizable sound in sports after making its first appearance in English soccer over 140 years ago. Much like sports themselves, the whistle is understood by sports goers and fans all over the world.

It projects a soprano-inspired sound that can be easily heard, is distinct, can reach far distances, and can definitely catch one’s attention. Sports of all kinds, from swimming to soccer to wrestling, include whistles in their forms of officiating.

Usually, the whistle marks the start and the end of a sporting event. It can also serve as a signal for pauses, restarts, or any unordinary circumstance during a game or competition.

Although the whistle has become a stamp of sports worldwide, it faces a new challenge with the coronavirus. Many leagues are now faced with the task of reevaluating their use of the whistle as the actions needed to utilize a whistle correctly would be against medical protocol for the ordinary fan or participant.

Inquiring with the Professionals

Ron Foxcroft has been at the forefront of the conversation as a former NCAA and Olympic basketball official. He has been sought out as one of, if not the most trusted person in North America in regards to whistles.

Foxcroft owns his own company called Fox 40, where selling whistles accounts for a big part of the business. He reportedly sells over 15,000 whistles a day, specifically his so-called pealess whistle.

With his company, Foxcroft has been able to make several whistle-related innovations, including an electronic whistle. Almost a decade ago, Fox 40 began marketing the new tool that operates with just the push of a button and adjustable tone buttons.

Currently, there are versions on the market that can be adjusted from 96 to 120 decibels of sound, which equates to the sound of a lawnmower and an ambulance siren. This is the version of Fox 40’s electronic whistle that has become popular in recent months.

Foxcraft has said all of his most recent inquiries from potential clients are seeking his opinion on the electronic whistle amid the pandemic and if they are able to receive samples.

There are, of course, other companies making similar whistles, including Windsor and iSport, but Fox 40’s notoriety in the sports industry puts them ahead of the pack. The company’s client list already includes the NBA, the NFL, and even the White House.

Before the pandemic, Fox 40’s biggest order for their electronic whistles came from a European train company for 3,000 whistles. As of May 1, the company has received orders for over 50,000 electronic whistles – most going to sports officials in the industry.

The majority of referees are used to a traditional whistle and will be using the electronic kind for the first time. Several referees have even said publicly that they did not know the electronic whistle existed until COVID-19 hit, and new methods for safety began being explored.

‘The Future of Whistles’ Is a Real Thing

Hockey Quebec has already included electronic whistles as a part of their protocol when they return to play. They will be mandatory to use by referees and coaches.

There have been many positives as well as possible issues presented by sports officials. Many are concerned about the whistle’s ability to function in different environments, including rain or snow, or how the sound would be registered with a time clock.

For now, the main concern is education sports officials on the availability and mere existence of the tool. The chief medical officer of the NCAA has said he thinks electronic whistles are a “brilliant idea” to help ensure the safety and health of sport industry officials.