Sometimes action has to be taken that affects many in order to root out a problem that is caused by a few.
This weekend pitches across North Dublin will lie idle and the boys and girls that would have been playing will be at home wondering why they can’t practise the moves they saw in Thursday night’s inspiring game between the Republic of Ireland and Portugal.
It will happen like that because the referees, mostly players themselves, teachers or volunteers who take charge for a nominal sum, are sick and tired of the abuse they get from the sidelines.
This weekend that is a football problem but it is one that is common across multiple other sports.
Those who do so in the North Dublin Schoolboys and Schoolgirls League, and in the Metropolitan Girls League have said that enough is enough and they have collectively notified the Leagues that they will not be turning up this Saturday.
“The reason why they are withdrawing their services is because of constant abuse and threatening behaviour from managers, players, coaches and supporters,” said Tony Gains, The Honorary Secretary of the Leagues.
“This weekend a female referee refereeing her first game of three games was abused so badly from the time she entered the pitch, she decided that she is not taking any more of this abuse from these people and she has now decided to give up refereeing entirely.”
“Another young referee who has only been refereeing for the past 2 months was petrified on the pitch, he was so afraid even to collect his gear. This abuse he took was absolutely disgraceful.”
The Leagues have said there will be a zero-tolerance of abuse but that merely places them in the same position as the referee is viewed, as an administrator getting in the way of the game.
What is required is that the clubs themselves and the vast majority of fans on the sidelines who are upset themselves by what they hear, stand up to the bullying behaviour that should have no part in any sport, never mind amateur games played by children.
The FAI weighed in last night confirming that “any abuse directed at them in the course of their duties will not be tolerated and will be punished.”
“I can assure affiliates across the country that the FAI will do whatever is needed to ensure the protection of all our referees – without them we have no game, plain and simple,” said CEO Jonathan Hill.
“The small minority of players, coaches, officials and all others guilty of such abuse need to understand that. They must know that Irish football and the FAI will do whatever we have to do to ensure a zero-tolerance policy towards abuse of any match official.”
“Our disciplinary regulations carry clear and serious sanctions to be enforced on anyone who abuses a match official and we are calling on all Leagues to enforce those sanctions. We cannot and will not tolerate any abuse aimed at a referee at any level of the game.”
Those sanctions should include the removal of repeat offender clubs from Leagues for a minimum period of time.
Hurting the innocent players is never a path you would want to advocate but we have to change the culture of acceptance that this is OK, that a referee who makes a bad call is doing so deliberately and deserves to be abused, that being a loud abusive manager on the sidelines is somehow helping a team.
All those involved in the Leagues should walk those quiet pitches on Saturday and reflect on what they have done that might have led to this.
Those who are guilty will probably be the last to recognise that it was their fault. Those who can see beyond the flash of frustration on a call going against them need to be the ones to stand up and call them out.
These leagues in Dublin have brought the issue to light. But they are far from the only ones that need to address it.
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