COLUMN | The sport needs to clean up its act – starting with the fans

Rugby League has always prided itself on a few things.

It boasts about how inclusive it is, it brags about the honesty and integrity of its players and it also gloats about the general friendliness of the people involved in the game.

But recent events have made a mockery of the foundations the ‘RLFamily’ is allegedly built on, and it’s time they were challenged.

We’ll begin with the first point mentioned, being inclusive and welcoming to all.

In the last seven days, there has been reports of both homophobic and political abuse aimed at referees in matches at both Super League and Championship level.

The Wolfpack Pack, a group of enthusiastic Candian supporters, have gone from talking up the sport to defending themselves on a daily basis from people hurling obscenities at them and claiming they are not wanted in the sport.

The second point, the honesty and integrity of its players.

By the week there are more and more examples of players trying to con referees.

Leeds head coach Brian McDermott has brought this up twice in the last twelve months, but this isn’t a new problem for the sport. There has always been a level of play-acting and time wasting in the sport since I remember watching the game in the mid-nineties.

The difference now is the lengths some players go to buy penalties. It’s leaving a stain on this great sport. More so, it makes a complete and utter joke of those who claim rugby league is the toughest sport of all. Try telling that to a new supporter who will witness a player flailing their arms in the air and flopping around like a beached fish trying to win a penalty.

Beyond that, there is a growing trend of players staying down to receive treatment, which has a remarkable coincidence of happening when their side is in need of a break. It’s a point that’s been brought up by former players.

Then the third point, the general friendliness of the sport.

Last Friday, the Sky cameras caught shocking footage of some Leigh fans hurling awful abuse at referee Chris Kendall.

Over the weekend terrible footage emerged featuring Joel and Sam Tomkins in a local pub abusing bar staff. This follows a video surfacing of Albert Kelly last month also behaving in an insulting manner when he appeared to be in a fast-food outlet.

At Summer Bash, police were called after a head coach was allegedly assaulted.

Rugby League is currently making itself a laughing stock and giving itself a terrible name.

The scary thing about it all is that people are trying to condone it.

Whenever a referee comes in for abuse, there is a stream of responses implying that they deserve it because of their performance.

When the footage of the Tomkins brothers came out, some, admittedly a small number of people, attempted to defend it because it happens all the time, or because they were being antagonised.

It’s a dangerous and outright scandalous outlook on things.

There is a blame culture in Rugby League where no section of the game wants to take responsibility for its shortcomings. The reality is that every single area of the game has its faults, but the game’s supporters are doing it no favours at this moment in time.

Going to games now, you get a genuine sense that some people go to a game simply to abuse the referees. I’ve been to games this year where a side has been completely outplayed, yet you go on social media or on to the terraces and it’s all the referee’s fault. More often than not, I’ve thought the officials have had a good game.

The players too have a responsibility here. Their excessive, often laughable appeals for a penalty only encourage the crowd. If they don’t respect the referees, nobody will.

Rugby League has to clean up its act, and it needs to do it fast.