Queensland Rugby League Referees’ staff are worried junior rugby league brawls will push established referees from the game and deter potential referees.
Following a string of violent incidents, including a Brisbane brawl in late August and last weekend’s 200 person brawl in Townsville, additional measures are being taken to ensure referees feel confident to continue working.
Queensland Rugby League Referees’ Operations Officer John Topp is disappointed this ongoing junior level issue is putting referees in jeopardy and emphasised the importance of a safe working environment.
“I know the leagues are working very closely with associations in each of the areas to investigate and make penalties quite hard for the offenders,” Mr Topp said.
“Having match day ground managers or duty officials, they’re trying their best to make our match day experience safe, but things get out of control.”
Mr Topp said public animosity associated with this profession makes the initial decision to become a referee difficult and even after the fact, personal circumstances can be influential when on-field violence occurs.
“It’s hard for us to obtain referees, but when there’s all in brawls and abuse, it becomes very hard to retain referees,” he said.
“Depending on the age of the kids and what’s happening in their family lives, if they’re seeing that type of abuse and they walk away from the game, it’s hard for us to recruit after that.”
Queensland Rugby League Referees’ Academy Director and former NRL referee Eddie Ward is particularly frustrated by violent spectator behaviour and said referees aren’t equipped, nor expected, to deal with things like the large scale Townsville incident.
“They’re taught how to handle it if players get involved in fights – they know how they handle that and try and quell it straight away,” Mr Ward said.
“If spectators come on or parents come on and start fighting or anything like that, they’ve never been spoken to about that.”
Mr Ward doesn’t think new referee training for large scale incidents is necessary, instead he encourages spectators to act appropriately in the spirit of the game.
“There’s channels they can go through if they feel that something hasn’t been done properly, without taking matters into their own hands,” he said.
The Townsville and District Rugby League Referees’ Association chose not to comment on last weekend’s incident due to the ongoing investigation.