Spectators abusing and assaulting referees should have criminal charges laid against them and be prosecuted, the President of SA Rugby, Mr Mark Alexander, said on Thursday, appealing to spectators, players and parents to respect the role of the match officials in the dynamics of the game.
Mr Alexander’s comments follow a recent attack on a match official in Tulbagh where a referee was knocked unconscious by a player after a match.
“Referees are an integral part of the game of rugby and without them, no one can play,” said Mr Alexander.
“I do not know of one referee going out there to officiate a match, at whatever level of play, who is not trying to do his best and serve the game to the best of his ability.
“That attitude, to serve and grow the game, must be commended and appreciated. Those who want to attack referees and abuse them are not welcome in rugby, simple as that.”
World Rugby’s regulations regarding this are similarly unequivocal, with the Physical Abuse of Match Officials – Laws 10.4 (s) and 10.4 (m) – clearly laying down the law to those who abuse match officials. Their entry level of punishment is a six month ban for abuse, rising to a life ban, depending on the circumstances.
In 2015, three players of the Fort Beaufort Barbarians club in the Eastern Cape were suspended from rugby for life after attacking a referee.
In 2014, a coach at the Vaal Reefs Rugby Club was also suspended for life from all forms of rugby after an assault on a referee in the Leopards Rugby Union league.
Mr Alexander was also disturbed by recent incidents where players on the field are deliberately running into referees.
“There is no need for that type of behaviour from players and it is something we will act upon harshly,” said Mr Alexander.
“There is more than enough space on the rugby field and no need for any player to run into a referee. We need to change the culture where referees are seen as fair game for verbal and physical abuse. It is just not acceptable.”
Mr Alexander said SA Rugby encourages all provinces to send out a strong message through their clubs that abuse of match officials is totally unacceptable.