Following concerns raised by the Eastern Province Rugby Referees Society relating to the conduct towards them at club matches, the Eastern Province Rugby Union has decided to cancel all club matches this weekend.
“We initially received a notification from the Referees Society today that they were downing tools due to the ongoing harassment that their members were exposed to at club games. While we do not condone the method in which the referees dealt with the issue – as we have protocols in place to deal with such matters – following discussions held with representatives from the referees we have decided to cancel all games this coming weekend in sympathy with their concerns,” said EPRU President, Cheeky Watson.
The referees raised concerns over the escalating levels of verbal and physical harassment at certain club rugby matches, citing threats of bodily harm and incidents wherein referees have been spat on and have had to be physically protected by players and executive members, and one recent instance where a referee’s tyres were slashed after a game.
“We as a union feel that this is simply unacceptable and will not condone this type of behaviour in any form whatsoever. We have already notified the clubs that all games for this coming weekend have been cancelled and have called on the clubs to address the issue of the abuse towards referees as a matter of urgency,” he said.
Watson said the service offered by referees to the clubs was often a thankless task, with referees having to sacrifice time away from family and other interests to assist with the development of rugby at grassroots level.
Clubs had already been informed that they would now be responsible for the safety of the referees at any home game they hosted, and that they needed to educate their spectators regarding their conduct at games.
“We have also made it clear that, going forward, any club that fails to address this matter will face the harshest of actions which the union can impose,” said Watson.