Referee abuse | 

Ref received phone call saying he'd be 'knifed' at next match, Dáil committee hears

In another incident, death threats were uttered to a referee as he was getting into his car following a football match a fortnight ago
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Allison Bray

A referee received an ominous phone call warning him that he would "be knifed" at the next match, a Dáil committee has heard.

In another incident, death threats were uttered to a referee as he was getting into his car following a football match a fortnight ago

Sean Slattery, vice president of the Irish Soccer Referees Society, said both incidents, which are currently being investigated by gardaí, are among the escalating cases of abuse suffered by volunteer referees at football matches across Ireland.

"Referees going home on their own are scared," he told the Joint Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media which met yesterday afternoon to discuss abuse of referees, officials and players in sport. He said referees are not only being routinely verbally abused during and after matches, they are also being subjected to physical abuse and threats of violence.

"We've had physical attacks where they've been physically hit," he told the committee.

Referees are suffering "the full spectrum of abuse" including death threats, he said.

Threats like "we'll get you in the car park and we know where you live" are typical, he said.

He added that three referees have been assaulted in the past three months alone, leading to the suspension of players, while referees are commonly being subjected to "insulting foul language" and threats of violence.

Gerard Perry, chair of the National Referees Committee for the Football Association of Ireland (FAI), said: "The recent cancellation of an entire weekend's programme of underage games in one league is the most recent manifestation of this problem and highlights the concerns of all involved with grassroots football and our united desire to combat this issue at all levels of the game before it threatens mass participation in our very game."

Since 2019, there have been 34 cases of abuse of match officials brought before the Disciplinary Control Unit of the FAI, he said.

Dudley Phillips, head of referees for the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU), said the IRFU is also investigating 27 reports of abuse of referees this past year alone.

Tom Ryan, director general of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), said abuse on and off the pitch, especially on social media, is a growing concern.

"There is a pervading climate among those who watch and report on our games, and more significantly those anonymous commentators on discussion forums and social media to persistently pass judgement.

"This is often unfair, with little balance, and frequently with very little actual knowledge of the rules of the game.

"Despite our best efforts this lack of respect can at times transfer itself to the field of play," he told the committee.

Chris Andrews, Sinn Féin TD for Dublin Bay South, told the committee he has witnessed abuse of referees and goalkeepers at football matches whom he described as having "the worst, thankless jobs".

"I've seen referees being abused. There is a culture in soccer and GAA that is acceptable to abuse referees," he said.

Yet without sanctions such abuse will continue, he said.

"There should be a lifetime ban, it's completely unacceptable to assault a referee," he said, adding that clubs should also face sanctions if their members are abusive.

Fianna Fáil Senator Shane Cassells said he witnessed a fan head-butting a player during a match and that abuse isn't just confined to senior football matches.

Independent Louth TD Peter Fitzpatrick, who is also chair of the Louth GAA county board, said he is concerned about abuse by parents of young players.

"It's the parents and the abuse they're giving that is creeping into all games," he said.

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