'We need zero tolerance' - Soccer referee quits amid abuse and threats at underage game

'We need zero tolerance' - Soccer referee quits amid abuse and threats at underage game
File photo.

A young soccer referee has announced he will no longer referee games after he was threatened last Saturday during an under-13 game in Kildare.

Harry McCann told RTE radio’s Today with Sean O’Rourke show that the incident on Saturday was the latest in a series going back months.

The 20-year-old said: “It has gotten progressively worse. There is an acceptance of threats that is worrying and a lack of action.”

In a tweet at the weekend, he had said: “The FAI do not care about the safety and wellbeing of referees, and I no longer feel safe being involved in the game.”

During the incident on Saturday, he was approached by an adult who came onto the pitch, swore at him, then stepped off the pitch when instructed, but continued to abuse him from the sideline including a threat of further violence.

At that stage, the referee blew the whistle and walked off the pitch himself. He went to the other sideline to explain his decision and they were very apologetic, “but the other sideline didn’t say anything or apologise”.

Abuse regularly comes from the sideline, he said. “Players react and all hell breaks loose. I’m only one person in the middle.”

The incident on Saturday arose when a child received “a smack in the face which was accidental.” Mr McCann spoke with the child who had begun to cry, “we had a chat and he said he was okay.

"Then an individual approached and said I wasn’t looking after the welfare of the children. I would never make a medical judgement, but in this case, there was no blood.”

He has submitted his report on the incident to the local league which in turn is due to forward the report to the FAI.

“Not enough is being done to stop this. The IRFU has zero-tolerance guidelines. We need zero tolerance.

“There seems to be an awful lot of anger in the game.”

Mr McCann queried the qualifications of the people with responsibility for large groups of children involved in underage soccer.

He said he couldn’t understand how such people could be considered responsible if they were threatening “to throw a punch in the car park”.

The FAI have since released a statement condemning any threat of violence against referees saying they will take action against anyone found guilty of threatening a referee, verbally or physically.

Their statement said: "To date, the FAI has received no report from the referee in question in relation to this incident or any previous incident. In such instances, the referee is instructed to report any incident to his own League and, under new rules introduced following a serious assault on an official last year, the League is obliged to forward any report of an assault on a referee directly to the FAI’s Disciplinary Control Unit.

"No such report has been received as yet from the Kildare and District Underage League in relation to the alleged incident at the weekend.

"The FAI would welcome direct contact from the referee involved and will be contacting the Kildare and District Underage League directly in relation to this alleged threat.

"The FAI would like to reassure this referee and all referees that a zero tolerance policy is in effect in relation to any threats against match officials."

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