10 May 2024

Spate of football coach abuse against referees 'will not be tolerated'

12:18 pm on 10 May 2024
Football South chief executive Dougal McGowan at the World Cup launch in Dunedin.

Southern Premiere Football League head Dougal McGowan says he hopes clubs won't be covering any fines awarded to coaches who abuse referees. Photo: RNZ / Tess Brunton

Three Southern Premiere League club football coaches have been disciplined for bad behaviour after being red carded for allegedly abusing referees at the weekend.

Southern Football, which covers the bottom half of the South Island, would not name the teams involved, but said two of the three incidents of abusive behaviour involved mens' teams.

Southern Premier League chief executive Dougal McGowan told Checkpoint the behaviour involved coaches swearing or verbally abusing the referee, and in one case also swearing or verbally abusing another person as well.

"It's classified as what they call an R8, for using offensive, insulting or abusive language and or gestures toward match officials - one of them has also received ... an R2 on top of that, which means it could be towards an opponent or another person other than a match official, as well.

"So quite serious charges there... I think we can expect better, and we should expect better ... It is very disappointing, and it's something we're not going to tolerate."

The three coaches who were red-carded for offensive behaviour had all been sanctioned, and received multiple-week bans for being on the side-line at games, and could face fines.

None of the incidents related to the Feds league involved physical altercations, though McGowan said: "Sometimes the threatening behaviour, using those words and the language, can actually be just as bad if not worse."

However, McGowan said he understood there had been an incident where a player was being dealt with for a physical attack on a referee at an unaffiliated league about three weeks ago in Central Otago.

While he did not receive match reports for the unaffiliated league, he said: "Our understanding is the referee was assaulted at that game ... I've seen some comments, it looks like that was a punch to the body or a push to the body."

About 7800 people had taken part in the Feds league matches in the weekend. There are 16 teams in the Fed leagues, ten mens' and six womens' teams.

The referees involved had been checked on by the league and offered support services.

"They're okay ... It's a really difficult time, particularly when you are in that space, you are alone, and you worry about yourself, so that should be a space that nobody should ever be in," McGowan said.

"So we sort of wrap around, but equally so does the refereeing community, and we've had some great support from our clubs and players, but also other associations today that are also reaching out to say that if there's anything they can do they'd love to help as well."

The league had also offered support to the referee who was involved in the altercation at the unaffiliated league.

"We do a lot of work with that referee. They were helping out on that occasion."

The three red-card incidents by coaches seemed to just be an unusual cluster, McGowan said, and there had not been any evidence that abuse at matches was getting worse. The issue mirrored similar problems seen by other levels of the game in New Zealand, and at leagues overseas.

"We've also seen one of our White Ferns last year they manhandled an assistant referee in a game," he said.

The clubs and the Southern Premiere Fed League were now working with the red-carded coaches, and McGowan said he hoped the clubs would not pay out for any fines incurred.

"There's no reason why the other people in the club ... should be receiving less support and services because somebody abuses the referee out of line - it's their personal behaviour and they need to be accountable for it."

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