Dunedin football and rugby referees should not have to put up with negative sideline behaviour.

Referees are volunteers, spending their time officiating so that the players have the opportunity to pursue their chosen sport. But their decisions are not always accepted, and criticism can escalate into abuse. Sometimes it's the players, sometimes it's the team's coach, sometimes it's parents or others watching on the sideline. 

For his final year research project for a Bachelor of Applied Science, Nicolas Stephen set out to investigate the prevalence and effects of negative sideline behaviour and the coping strategies which match officials use. He designed a brief online survey which was distributed to match officials via Football South and the Otago Rugby Football Union.To a greater or lesser extent, all of the 27 referees who responded to the survey had experienced people trying to influence their decisions. Most had also had players or spectators delaying or disrupting games. About a quarter had felt unsafe or threatened. For almost all, the negative sideline behaviour affected their enjoyment of the game. 

Nick is concerned there are implications for referees' willingness to continue volunteering, and for their mental health. Coping strategies they reported included ignoring or blocking out abuse, speaking with the offender, speaking with the captain or coach, and talking to family and friends. Nick recommends that coping with negative sideline behaviour should be included in referee training, and that strategies are needed to help sports clubs reduce sideline abuse.

April 2022

Image credit: "Real Buried Treasure", Creative Commons Attribution licence CC BY 2.0