Retired RFL full-time referee Robert Hicks, who is now the governing body’s Director of Operations and Legal, has identified the reduction or elimination of abusive behaviour to referees in the community game as one of the key aims as he settles into his role.
Hicks has taken over the role from Karen Moorhouse, who is now the RFL’s Chief Regulatory Officer, and he believes he has taken up the role at an important time for the game.
“There is a crossroads every few years for Rugby League,” Hicks told League Express.
“We’ve got through Covid, which has shown us some strengths and weaknesses as a governing body. It’s allowed the sport to re-assess where we are and I think we can really establish ourselves in the next twelve months.
“We have never been on prime-time terrestrial TV for our domestic league and the new Channel 4 broadcasting deal will give us some real momentum going into the World Cup later in the year.
“In the first four months of the season we will have had a good chunk of Rugby League on terrestrial TV on the BBC and Channel 4.
“And a successful World Cup would be a game changer and we have to be ready for that.”
But Hicks believes that the game must face up to some of its problems before then, particularly in the field of crowd abuse.
“The reality is that in part of the whole game review in the last Sport England cycle, one of the biggest barriers to maintaining participation was adult behaviour on the touchline, reducing the quality of the environment.
“Often children are refereeing games at junior level and some people believe it’s their right to have a go at them.
“We have a two-pronged approach to addressing this problem.
“You have to come up with a series of sanctions, which means if teams don’t behave, they are brought to book. We are going to draw a line in the sand, while recognising that society these days is a divided world.
“We intend to say that if you want to be involved, these are our standards. And to be effective we need sanctions that mean something. Abusing a referee who is a child is child abuse and the game will treat it as a safeguarding case.
“Low-level abuse needs nipping in the bud at an early stage.
“On the other hand, we need to educate people and find ways to reward well-behaved teams, perhaps with prizes, monetary reward or some other form of assistance.”
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