The RFL have called a meeting of community clubs to address the increasing number of incidents relating to touchline behaviour and match official abuse.
There are growing concerns about abuse at all levels of the game, with Catalans owner Bernard Guasch also under investigation following the comments he made after the Super League Grand Final.
Sources say that so-called ‘adult behaviour’ has worsened drastically since the return to play after the COVID lockdown and must be addressed.
In an email sent to community clubs, seen by Love Rugby League, the RFL said: “Poor touchline behaviours and environments was referenced throughout the Whole Game Review published late 2019 as a key factor in why players and volunteers left the game.
“Examples of poor behaviour, including match official abuse, is prevalent not only among players but also coaches, Game Day Managers and spectators including parents.
“The issue of poor behaviours and environments has intensified following the return to play following the Covid enforced lockdowns.
“Whilst such behaviours only involve a minority there is a clear need for immediate action and culture change to ensure everyone who participates in rugby league can do so in a safe welcoming environment.”
Community clubs, leagues, coaches and match officials societies have been invited to a meeting at Rochdale Mayfield on November 6.
RFL match official abuse
Bradford were recently sanctioned following homophobic abuse from fans targeted at James Child.
Robert Hicks received death threats in the build-up to the 2019 Challenge Cup, and was then heavily criticised by Saints chief Eamonn McManus after the final.
A Milford player was banned sine die last month for punching referee Joe Stearne in a National Conference League match against Oulton Raiders.
The issue has been particularly troublesome at junior level, where young referees have been abused from the sidelines.
Frustration at this and the lack of action to prevent it even saw the Huddersfield Rugby League Referees Society withdraw its under-18s officials from Yorkshire Junior league fixtures last month.
At the time, they said: “We no longer feel that the league discipline 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 are overwhelmed with the support we have received following our statement on Wednesday, from both within rugby league and the wider sporting community. We never expected to receive so many kind messages and for this we are truly grateful. 1/6
— Huddersfield Rugby League Referees Society (@huddref) October 1, 2021
But even after that action, which gained widespread support and coverage, little changed.
The following week, Huddersfield Referees Society development officer Rebecca Whiteley tweeted: “Some absolutely horrendous messages received about abuse received from colleagues on junior games this weekend. Sounds like a lot of lip service from clubs.”
The support we've received has been crazy! Hopefully this shows the rugby league community change needs to happen for the good of the game. If you see abusive behaviour this weekend then please challenge it, we can't afford to keep losing referees from the game.#NoRefNoGame https://t.co/MQ6emccz5U
— Rebecca Whiteley (@RebeccaWhiteley) October 1, 2021
There is a worry that the attention given to referees by broadcasters, criticism on social media and comments from high profile club officials, coaches and players are creating a waterfall effect that is filtering to all levels of the game.
It is believed the issue is a high priority within the RFL, with imminent changes set to provide further attention to resolving discipline and abuse at all levels of the game.