Abuse of officials 'must be stamped out'

Football should adopt a zero tolerance approach to players who abuse referees, according to top rugby league match official Steve Ganson.

David Elleray and Keith Hackett, former international referees turned administrators, believe the Football Association’s Respect initiative introduced this season is working.

But Ganson has no doubts foul-mouthed offenders should be harshly dealt with - even if they are the biggest names in the sport.

The 38-year-old referee, who will tomorrow be named to officiate at the Rugby League World Cup in Australia, insisted: “Referees are there to referee and not facilitate.

“We are in a society now where people are encouraged to facilitate things and not make decisions and not deal with people who give abuse and dissent.

“From rugby league we come from a slightly different angle in that we’re quite keen that we don’t let these type of epidemics start ripping through the game.

“We are very keen to deal with it, whatever the profile player, in the correct manner.

“Facilitating the players is just a complete waste of time. That doesn’t gain any type of respect.”

Ganson aired his forthright views when leading match officials from football, rugby league, rugby union and cricket, who have formed the new Association of Elite Sports Officials (AESO) this season, met up at Twickenham.

“Players want referees to referee but that needs support from people. Referees come under more scrutiny for weak facilitating performances than referees who make stronger decisions in dealing with players,” he added.

Elleray, chairman of the new association, believes football is ready to learn from the other three sports as it enforces the Respect programme.

“We are clear that in other sports the referees and umpires are perhaps shown greater respect than is currently the case but we don’t believe that has to remain the same,” he said.

“I think the Respect programme is going to be a long-term one and what we are trying to do with AESO all round is for the four sports to learn from each other.

“We hope this organisation will promote a more positive image of officiating in all the sports and we’ll all learn from each other.

“We’ve already seen some examples of that with the Respect programme being based to some extent on the other three sports using the captain as a key feature to manage situations.”

Referees supremo Keith Hackett believes the campaign will produce results, although he made it clear he expects referees not to stand for any nonsense.

“I expect referees to apply the laws. In law, if someone does swear it is abusive and insulting so that’s a red card so he’s off the field,” he said.

“That’s the law and that’s the responsibility of the referee to apply that law so we’re not hedging from that.

“But it is important that, like the Respect programme, you are not changing things immediately overnight.

“It is still very early days and there is a lot of work going on to actually ensure the image of the game is not tarnished.

“The Premier League game is transmitted to half the world’s population and if we are not doing it and not setting a reasonable standard, it reflects very badly on our officials.”

But Hackett added: “Part of our role is to educate. We now meet the managers pre-season, we have good open debates, our referees are going into clubs all the time to try to get the players to have a great understanding of what is acceptable and what is not acceptable.

“In the main players are reasonably well disciplined on the field of play from the verbal point of view, although there’s obviously the odd expletive that comes out. It’s not as bad as people think.”

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