Counties have taken their lead from Wexford in devising and implementing initiatives they hope will better protect GAA referees.
Following a meeting on Tuesday evening between the Wexford County Board executive and local referees, a series of actions were agreed upon to improve discipline at games in the Model County and ensure the protection of referees from verbal and physical threats.
The meeting was called off the back of two separate incidents in the county in recent weeks where two referees were subjected to alleged assault when taking charge of junior club fixtures.
Wexford may be the first, but they are not the sole county to step up efforts to offer greater protection to match officials in light of increasing referee abuse across the county.
It emerged yesterday that Derry County Board has informed clubs that only three people will be allowed inside the pitch enclosure for all remaining 2022 club championship fixtures.
The three permitted inside the pitch enclosure will be the manager, selector, and medic, with all three to wear labelled bibs. Everyone else is to be confined to the dugout, stand, or a designated area.
In Kerry, where disciplinary problems have led to the abandonment of U11 hurling and U15 football games in recent weeks, the county’s referees committee has plans to meet with all clubs in the county to improve tolerance towards referees.
“What we are looking at doing is that the referees committee, along with top referees in the county, would meet with clubs individually and one of the core objectives would be to get away from the ‘them and us’ dynamic that we have at present,” Kerry referees chairman Mark Griffin told the Irish Examiner.
“What we want to do is bring about greater tolerance towards referees and we hope to start down that road with these meetings we are planning, meetings that would be attended by club officials, mentors, and others.
“Clubs also need to look within, as well. I had a call from someone giving out about a referee recently, but there wasn’t a word about their own freetaker and the frees they missed from that same match. Attitudes need to change.” One of the Wexford proposals calls for a simplified version of playing rules to give a greater understanding to those who provide commentary on refereeing decisions, a recommendation Griffin is in full support of.
“We need to establish better understanding of the playing rules, absolutely. I’d say if you went into a club now and gave them a list of questions regarding playing rules and what sanctions accompanies different fouls, they’d probably score only 50 or 60%.
“If we improve understanding of the playing rules, it will improve people’s understanding of the decisions referees are making in games.” Another proposal to come out of Wexford on Tuesday evening was to change the maximum punishment for verbally or physically threatening an official from a 96-week suspension to a lifetime ban.
Griffin’s view is that “the punishment must fit the crime” and so if any verbal or physical threat to a referee merits expulsion from the association, then so be it.
At a Kerry referees meeting shortly after Roscommon referee Kevin Naughton ended up in hospital following an incident involving a club mentor that saw the latter slapped with a proposed 96-week suspension, Griffin and his fellow committee members implored referees to include any and all abusive incidents in their referee reports, however minor they might think them to be.
“What you’ll find is that something is said to the referee during a game, but they don’t then write up their report until a day or two later, and by that stage, they say to themselves, it wasn’t that bad, I’ll leave it out.
“We told them at that meeting to include everything, leave nothing out. It’ll allow us to keep track and take action, if required, against clubs who are repeat offenders when it comes to verbal abuse.”