Two and a bit years ago, I got so fed up with reading about referee abuse in this country that I wrote an angry piece on this site. I also emailed it to Martin Devlin for comment, in the hope that he might raise the issue on his morning show on Radio Sport. Surprisingly, this led to a quick invitation and interview on Martin’s DRS programme to discuss the issue for a brief time.
I was hoping (misguidedly as it turned out) that Devlin highlighting the issue on his top-rating show might somehow lead to the changing of a few mindsets about poor old refs becoming an endangered sporting species, thanks to needless, criminal assaults from a certain type of imbecile- the type of imbecile who would probably fit in well with a group of Cagliari football followers.
Two years down the track and things on the Saturday sport refereeing front, as far as nocuous sideline behaviour and serious assaults go, have gotten even more dire. It’s high time they had better backing from on the top. New Zealand Rugby could start by instituting a Referee’s Day, so we can show they matter to us. If the governing body won’t take up the cudgels, then perhaps the clubs and provinces might instead, independently.
Then the other day from out of the deep blue came something that could indirectly be a godsend for the refs- The announcement by five major NZ sporting codes that a paradigm shift should take place in making sport more fun and accessible for kids is one that could well have an added future benefit. That which ‘depowers’ adult sideline aggression. Because, in a roundabout way, those berating and over-hyped sideline adults have been a part of the issue within the overall trend of more and more kids abandoning Saturday sport. Hockey chief Mike Bignell hit the nail on the head: ‘We shouldn’t look at kids’ sport through adults’ eyes’.
On a different tack, it’s not easy to stomach the possibility of annulling representative teams as was hinted through the aforesaid announcement. Not yet anyway. Is there not a way to separate a link in our school and club sport between obsessive behaviour, cut-throat competition and dumb, aggressive adults and parents, from the joy and aspirations of representative sport? Or is it all tied up in one impenetrable, infuriating Gordian Knot?
We’ve split the atom and are on the way to developing drugs that could one day almost destroy cancerous cells in the human body- surely there’s a way to keep representative sport and still have all kids enjoying sport without dopey and obsessive adults ruining it for them.
That all withstanding, the health and safety of our amateur refs is still one huge concern. Just remember that without them we don’t even get out on to the pitch. So look after them please, and, if you’re courageous enough, tell the yobs to put a sock in it. The old chestnut about the mark of a proper civilised and decent society being about how we take care of the vulnerable is a perfect one.