Bradford chairman Andrew Chalmers has called on the RFL to take a tougher stance on the abuse of match officials.
The issue has once again been in the news with the retirement from the NRL of leading international referee Matt Cecchin, who received abuse and death threats after officiating the World Cup semi-final between England and Tonga last year.
You don’t have to search back far in to the RFL disciplinary hearings to find a player or coach up for a foul and abusive language towards a match official charge, and the extreme case of Danny Bridge, banned for nine months for assaulting a match official recently.
A number of top flight referees have departed in recent years including Joe Cobb, George Stokes and Matt Thomason, and it is clear that the pool of match officials is being stretched to their limits.
There is constant abuse of officials and their decision making on social media during games, even from official club accounts themselves.
Writing in his programme notes, Chalmers said: “As a sport be must take strong action to protect our referees and match officials from any aggressive and abusive behaviour.
“I’ve been trying to understand why it is this happens. Where has the respect gone for each other? Is this more a reflection of the society we are becoming, or is this a problem just affecting sport.
“One thing is for certain, as a sport we need to examine what we do and say, to be more respectful to match referees, officials and opposition.
“Friendly banter I get. Verbal abuse of anyone must not be tolerated. We must not lose hold of old fashioned values, like respect, please and thank you. It goes a long way in life.
“The RFL needs to take a tougher stance here, and the games new leader Ralph Rimmer must take the opportunity to draw the line firmly in the sand for all to see.
“Work is needed to fully understand the extent of the problem, but I hope the RFL is prepared to set clearer guidelines and tougher penalties against players, officials and clubs.
“I know a large increase in trolling has arisen, because the keyboard army finds it too easy to slag off the opinions, views and actions of others from the comfort of their lounge, safe in anonymity.
“It’s all unacceptable behaviour. Maybe we should have a RESPECT ROUND in the rugby league calendar, to highlight the importance of traditional values, and its importance in sport.
“Sport needs the support of hardworking and dedicated match officials. Many are very young, and need support, mentoring and protection from those weak and gutless individuals who hurl out verbal and sometimes physical abuse towards these mainly volunteers.
“We all need to set an example of what is acceptable behaviour and what is not. Let’s not tolerate bad or abusive behaviour. On the field, in the coaching box or side line, or in the stands and terraces.
“I can tell you as a club we will step up our strategies to be more respectful – right across the board. We must have a zero tolerance towards the abuse of match officials at all times. You wouldn’t accept physical or verbal abuse in the work place, why should we tolerate it in sport? Let’s stamp it out.”
The RFL’s disciplinary review has been littered with charges relating to match official abuse in recent months.
In July, as well as the Bridge incident, four players and coaches were handed bans. Rochdale’s Ben Moores was given a two match ban for foul and abusive language to a match official, while North Wales coach Anthony Murray and Featherstone’s Matty Wildie receive one match bans for the same offence. Hull KR stand-off Danny McGuire received a one-match ban for contact with a match official.
Leigh’s Matty Dawson was handed a five-match ban in June for questioning the integrity of a match official, and Swinton’s Josh Barlow also got a three-match ban for a similar offence.
In Super League, Danny Brough (three matches), Chris Houston (two) and Mark Percival (one) have all served bans for disputing a decision, while Houston also served a suspension for contact with a match official.