Today, news is emerging from the NRL that there have been death threats made to Australian referees. These threats were described as being “credible death threats”, resulting in the arrest of at least one individual and causing the NRL to increase the security at their games going forward, in an attempt to protect the match officials. Combine this with last week, when a Twitter user responding with death wishes to Chris Kendall’s announcement of the birth of his son, this should provoke outrage and disgust in people’s minds. Who has the right to do this? Who thinks its acceptable to wish death upon another individual or their family?
Meanwhile in the community game we hear stories of parents and coaches shouting abuse at, and threatening, referees for decisions they make. We hear of referees giving up the game because they can’t cope with the ongoing hassle they receive, and this should shock us. What other job do people do where if they make a mistake they get threats of violence? Do we go shopping and when the wrong amount is rung into the till we hurl abuse at the sales assistant? Or if an item of clothing is hung on the wrong coat hanger do we think it acceptable to make death threats to a nearby worker? I suspect for most people the answer is a resounding no.
How is it then acceptable for this to happen to someone who has chosen to be a professional referee? And this is only touching on the times that the referee makes a mistake. More often than not, it is not the referee who makes the mistake. It is the players whose mistakes are called out by the referee, or the supporter who doesn’t know the laws of the game, who are in the wrong. Yet it is not they who get the abuse, it is still the referee who is on the receiving end of this.
This is a serious matter. We talk more about mental health, and rightly so, but are we giving any thought and consideration to the mental health of our match officials? Without whom there would be no matches any more. We need to give them some serious respect and consequences need to be harsher for people who contravene acceptable behaviour.
I am thankful that, so far, my 12 year old hasn’t had any real abuse thrown his way since starting his journey as a young referee. But, sadly, I am fully expecting the day to come when it happens and I know its probably not far down the line. At a recent competition, after the match a player called him “a joke of a ref”. The player was spoken to about this and told it was unacceptable.
At the same competition, my son refereed from 10am-3pm on a one game on, one game off situation in temperatures of 20°c plus, for 2 consecutive days. Compared to the players who played maybe 6 games over the course of the weekend. Large groups of these players felt it acceptable to boo at the officials at the end of competition presentation. What are the coaches and parents instilling in their children that they find it acceptable to boo the very people who are enabling them to play the sport that they love?
Do I have the answers on what to do to prevent this? No, I’m not sure what the solution is. But I do think that all clubs, grassroots and above, have a real obligation to protect the match officials, particularly as normally it is simply the referee there on his or her own. They don’t have assistants or anybody else supporting them with their decision making. Currently, touchline marshals are meant to be in place to control their fans, but this very often isn’t enough, and several times I have heard of them being the ones shouting the most abuse. There needs to be more accountability in punishing clubs and individuals who are abusive. Maybe some coaches, players and parents would benefit from actually undertaking a refereeing course or being handed the whistle and see how they can manage the pressure of a match when there are so many different things to be thinking about.
Above all else please think about how you would like your son/daughter/brother/sister/mother/father to be spoken to. Remember it is a game, and the likelihood is your team will make more mistakes than the referee does. And without the match officials there will be no game.
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