RFL responds to referee abuse crisis

THE RFL say plans are in place to tackle the rising problem of verbal abuse and, in some cases, physical assault of referees in the community game through “decisive action”.

The governing body has accepted that the worrying situation will exacerbate a shortage of match officials.

The Huddersfield RL Referees Society this week announced that they have withdrawn officials under the age of 18 from Yorkshire Junior and Youth League fixtures because of safeguarding concerns.

The society tweeted: “We no longer feel that the league will safeguard our officials when it comes to abuse, after recent findings from the discipline panel.

“We have tried working with the league over the last few seasons to build relationships and keep rugby enjoyable for everyone. However, this week has shown that no progress has been made.

“We feel like we have no voice. We can’t safeguard our referees without the support of the league, and it has now come to the point that we have to take more drastic action to safeguard ourselves.

“We apologise to the teams affected this week, as the majority are brilliant and supportive of our young officials.

“Sometimes a little action can make a big difference, and we hope that you can see past the inconvenience and support us.”

The issue was raised at a recent RFL Whole Game Board meeting.

And RFL Director of Participation and Development, Marc Lovering, said: “The standard of behaviours on our touchlines has deteriorated significantly since the community game has returned in full, post lockdown.

“This deterioration in behaviours and hostile environments has resulted in an increase in match-official abuse including verbal abuse of young match officials and on more than one occasion, physical assault.

“We were already facing challenges in terms of the impact of Covid on the number of active match officials and the poor behaviours we have seen this season have exacerbated the problem to the extent it is highly unlikely we will have enough match officials to appoint to every game next season.

“The RFL already had plans in place to bring all key stakeholders together at the end of the season to address these challenges.

“The recent decision by the Huddersfield Referees Society not to appoint match officials under the age of 18 is further evidence of the need for action.

“It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to comment on the details of the disciplinary case which led to the decision not to appoint referees as I wasn’t part of that process.

“We do, however, have to respect the decision the society has made and recognise they wouldn’t have done so unless they felt the situation warranted it.

“It is also important to note that the volunteers at the Yorkshire Junior League have been very proactive in communicating with the RFL this season in recognising and trying to find a solution to the challenges that exist.

“The fact some matches may not take place at the weekend is not the fault of the Yorkshire Junior League.

“It is the cumulative impact of some appalling behaviours exhibited by a minority of players, parents and other spectators during this season.

“That has to change and I think all key stakeholders recognise that as a collective we need to take some decisive action ahead of next season – and we will.”