15 May 2017

Wellington rugby's 'Keep it Clean' campaign kicks off

9:20 am on 15 May 2017

Wellington Rugby's new "Keep it Clean" initiative [http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/ninetonoon/audio/201843588/keep-it-clean

asks sideline supporters from opposing teams to rate one another] in an effort to cut abuse at kids' games. Jacob McSweeny heads to a Wellington sports ground to see how it works in practice.

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A new initiative aims to curb bad behaviour on the sidelines at rugby games. Photo: 123rf

It's 9am on Saturday and the air smells of cut grass and reverberates with the intermittent whistles of referees and the shouts of players and supporters.

On three different fields at Kilbirnie Park a famous rivalry is playing out again. It's Pōneke versus Marist Saint Pats.

Pacing the sidelines wearing a yellow bib, emblazoned with the "Keep it Clean" campaign slogan - one supporter from each side must wear one - is Nigel Case, whose son was playing hooker for Pōneke's Under-11s.

"What I see normally is parents behaving pretty well actually.

Across the field is another game but this time it's a younger group of boys and girls.

Suzy Jones and Tania Waugh are standing together cheering on their sons - both Pōneke boys.

Ms Jones said while abuse was not a regular occurrence there was no reason not to have the initiative.

"Personally I've never seen any particularly bad behaviour on the sidelines.

"I think Wellington's pretty good actually. Obviously someone thinks there's a need for it [the initiative] and if it changes the culture that's perceived that's there then it's a good thing."

Ms Waugh said now that supporters know they are being judged by the opposite side, they are more likely to keep their cool.

"If people are aware that there is someone going to be marking them... keeping an eye out for how they're behaving it might help with someone that might want to say something negative. They might think again."

One of the teams decided to use the bib as a form of punishment.

Wayne Dundon said last week one of his club's supporters behaved poorly and so this week he was wearing the yellow bib.

"He was a bit naughty last week which we agree shouldn't be happening at any level.

"He was virtually bad-mouthing the other referee at the time. At the grade it was - it was under-6s - it was pretty poor really.

"He's paying the price this week, which is good and hopefully he'll learn from it."

Mr Dundon, who was there watching three of his grandchildren play, said behaviour had improved vastly since the days when he played.

"In my day there would be people running on to the field with umbrellas and other things.

"I think it's a vast improvement... allowing the players to get on with the game and I think it's great."

It's too early to tell whether the initiative will make the sidelines a friendlier place, but for now parents are happy to see how it plays out.