The rugby union gave referees advice on how to handle threats such as ‘I’ll turn off your lights’ and ‘I’ll smash your car’ as part of a crackdown on match official abuse for the new season.
Amid a significant increase in incidents of abuse at all levels and fears of a shortage of referees in the lower leagues and grassroots football, the RFU has contacted all referee societies and disciplinary committees , emphasizing the need for a “zero tolerance” approach.
The guidelines highlight five different categories – disrespect for officer authority, verbal abuse, use of threatening words or actions, physical contact and physical violence – and provide examples of what would be classified in each. of them. “Are you fucking kidding, ref?” would be seen as a lack of respect for the authority of the official, whereas “are you retarded?” or “you’re a cheater” would amount to verbal abuse.
For the most serious offense of using threatening words or actions, examples such as “I will turn off your headlights”, “I will smash your car”, and “I will not enter the clubhouse if I was you”, are given.
Moving a referee out of the way to make a tackle or a breakdown would constitute physical contact, while physical abuse is described as a player charging at a referee, pushing the referee forcefully and any punching, striking or kicking.
The RFU has also told all disciplinary committees that they are obliged to follow World Rugby’s sanctions for red cards for abuse of match officials. According law 9.28, disrespect to the official’s authority, verbal abuse and physical contact can all result in bans of up to 12 months, while threatening words or actions can be punished by a suspension of up to up to five years. The maximum penalty for physical abuse is a lifetime ban. Where acts are committed by coaches, backstage staff, spectators or parents, the disciplinary charge of “conduct to the prejudice of the interests of the game” may be brought.
“We take abuse by match officials very seriously and will act decisively when and how it happens,” said RFU Disciplinary Officer David Barnes. “The discipline panels at both RFU and local level all follow the same process to ensure consistency of approach across the country. It is important to align match officials and disciplinary committees on how to identify, manage and report abuse before the start of the season.
Last season, according to the list of disciplinary judgments published by the RFU, there were 29 cases which would fall into the five categories, including one which resulted in a 20-week ban for a shoulder charge on a referee, which said he also found his pants. in a trash can after the game.
There have been six instances involving disrespect for the authority of the match official in the Premiership, including incidents which resulted in suspensions for Dean Richards and Chris Boyd, the respective directors of rugby at Newcastle and Northampton – who were both disciplined for post-match comments.
Last season, England winger Anthony Watson was also reprimanded for criticizing a match official on social media and given a one-week suspended ban. The disciplinary panel dealing with this incident heard from the Rugby Football Referees Union, who highlighted concerns over the shortage of local match officials following the pandemic-imposed layoff.
“It is no secret that there are concerns about the number of referees taking the whistle again after such a prolonged layoff,” read a statement. “A situation exacerbated by the fact that many of our members are leaving the game having become disillusioned with, among other things, persistent challenge to their decisions and, unfortunately, serious cases of abuse of match officials.
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