RW reader Rachel Edwards rails against the increasing abuse of officials

Rugby Rant: End referee abuse

BEING A referee mum, and a referee wife, has its downside. In supporting the man in the middle, I am a neutral supporter of the teams and I don’t need to look at the scoreboard to know which team is in the lead. It can be obvious from the shouts and body language of supporters and coaches. The shouts are at times directed towards players but are far more often aimed at the referee.

In looking for someone to blame for the game not following the path they would choose, coaches, parents, players and other supporters can, and do, see the referee as an easy target, leaving me having to bite my tongue.

Some shouts are lost in the space between the foul mouth that produced them and the ears of the person in the middle, but not all. And when supporters encroach onto the pitch to deliver their message to the referee, and even suggest that they will tell him or her which decisions to make, their opinion is heard, loudly and clearly.

For a teenager to get out of bed on a weekend morning and make what can be a substantial journey to enable two clubs to play a match, then be streamed on social media with sarcastic and derogatory comments attached, can cause hurt that runs deep. That dream of a career path can be crushed before it’s even had a chance to begin.

Referee societies are incredibly supportive and mentors give up their time to pass on knowledge to young people who have decided to take up the whistle. And when negative experiences occur on the pitch for those teens, sadly all too frequently, the ‘elders’ devote further hours to investigate and report the incidents to pave a more respectful and positive way forwards for them.

Referee abuse has hit the headlines a few times recently. When this happens, it provokes responses from many who have endured it themselves and that could have been decades ago. It is not new, neither is the shortage of referees. Perhaps the frustration at the loss of freedom during the pandemic is fuelling more aggression and derision from the sidelines.

Parental support goes a long way. Mentor and peer support adds a further dimension. But the real change needs to come from the top, from the RFU. Any referee who has been subjected to serious abuse needs to know that their case is being acted upon by those who wouldn’t have a job if it weren’t for those at grass-roots level.

Some rugby spectators will go to any lengths to make themselves heard. Above all, it is time for the referees’ voices to be heard and respected.

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