The scenes both on and off the field during Catalans’ bad-tempered victory over Warrington last Saturday brought great shame on the sport of rugby league.
The individuals responsible in the stands deserve banning for life and the clubs need to take accountability too. For what it’s worth, the suspensions handed out to some of the players at this week’s disciplinary are incredibly lenient and somewhat dumbfounding.
But calls to deduct points from the two teams are ill-thought and bordering on ridiculous.
On Wednesday, Wigan Warriors great and Sky Sports summariser Phil Clarke said the RFL should deduct points from both clubs as punishment.
“Warrington and Catalans need to be sent a message, which would then cascade to every team in Super League,” Clarke said when speaking about the incident on Sky Sports News.
Phil was alluding to the fact the clubs should be deducted points for failing to control their players. But I dread to think how often clubs would be punished if they faced consequences every time a player lost their rag.
He is right that it would send out a message. But if we were to start deducting points for crowd trouble it would cascade straight to the minority of troublemakers among every fanbase, who would sense an opportunity to cause trouble at rival clubs in the hope of ensuring punishment.
The moment one incident results in a points deduction a precedent is set. You can guarantee some people would scheme to take advantage of that and cause chaos in the hope of retribution.
What’s to stop a bunch of fans from a club threatened with relegation going to Headingley on Friday and starting a punch up? What’s to stop someone going in the away end when Huddersfield travel to Salford on Sunday and launching flares on the pitch? Do we deduct points from those two clubs too?
You have to ask where the line is drawn. At the recent Challenge Cup semi-finals, I saw one Hull FC fan throw a missile on the field and several Halifax supporters invade the pitch. Should both of those clubs have points deducted too? If so, expect plastic bottles and pitch invaders at almost every game, every week, very soon.
Handing out point deductions for crowd trouble would increase the number of violent and unsavoury incidents. It would encourage people to go to games and cause trouble. It would be irresponsible and ill-advised.
What’s more, the consequences could be far more severe than they are to Warrington and Catalans.
The Dragons could miss out on a play-off place if they’re handed a points deduction. That would be an incredibly unfair punishment on a group of players who have put their bodies on the line all year.
But what if a club was relegated as a result of fan trouble? Should a group of players, coaches and office staff lose their livelihood because a few imbeciles can’t handle their beer? Of course not, it’s a stupid suggestion.
Catalans and Warrington deserve punishing and the clubs themselves must do everything in their power to identify the culprits and ban them for life. Banning orders aren’t easy to police, but they are policeable. If the clubs don’t uphold that obligation then they should be forced to play games behind closed doors. But that’s where the punishment should end, along with hefty fines of course.
But a very small minority should not be allowed to ruin it for the majority, and they most certainly shouldn’t be given the power to influence the league table. That would be dangerous, reckless, and lead to very distressing times on terraces up and down the country.