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Underreporting of referee abuse is major issue across rugby, soccer and GAA – Dillon

1st December 2021 - Alan Dillon, TD

A culture of underreporting of abuse against referees is prevalent across Irish rugby, soccer, Gaelic football and hurling, a Fine Gael TD has said.

At Deputy Alan Dillon’s invitation, representatives of the GAA, IRFU, FAI and the Irish Soccer Referees Society today appeared before the Oireachtas Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media.

Deputy Dillon, a former senior Mayo footballer, said, “While the issue of abuse of referees is not new, it is getting worse with an increasing culture of underreporting across clubs and organisations.

“A fear exists across the sporting sector that adequate systems are not in place within counties to address the issue.

“At today’s committee meeting, we heard stories of referees facing very serious incidents of abuse. From death threats as referees get into their cars after a match, to being told that they’ll knifed at their next game, this level of harassment must be stamped out.

“It is completely unacceptable behaviour and needs to be increasingly called-out.

“This issue is certainly not confined to a single sport, as evidenced by statistics provided by the IRFU, FAI and GAA to the committee this afternoon.

“Since 2019, 34 cases of abuse of match officials have been brought before the FAI Disciplinary Control Unit. As of mid-November, 27 cases of abuse within the IRFU had been reported this year.

“Across inter-county GAA games in 2020, 104 players were sent off. Off these, three were penalised for abuse of referees.

“As the Director General of one sporting organisation pointed out, the relatively low statistics likely speak to a wider issue of underreporting.  While referees are encouraged to report abuse, representatives at today’s meeting acknowledged many incidents go unreported.  The statistics provided are therefore unlikely to capture the true extent of the problem.

“We can’t just turn a blind eye to threats and intimidation against referees. Organisations, officials, and all those involved in sport must actively call out and tackle abuse if and when they witness it.

“The ramifications of this abuse cannot be ignored; 66% of new FAI referees are lost within two years, with exit interviews confirming that ‘referee abuse’ is the main reason behind their decision to leave.

“The impact of this abuse is far wider than the effect it has on individual referees. If we do not have referees, we simply will not have games.

“With the publication of the new Sports Action Plan 2021-2023 earlier this week, it is an ideal opportunity for Sport Ireland to develop a Code of Ethics or Conduct for protecting officials at grass roots level.

“There is an opportunity now to address this issue as part of the stakeholder engagement in the Action Plan. If such a Code is put in place, it will be up to national sporting governing bodies to sign-up and implement it within their organisation.” concluded Deputy Dillon.

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