Zero tolerance of abuse vital
May 3, 2014
Fortunately the kind of abuse that led to Wayne Barnes showing Dylan Hartley a red card at last year's Premiership final is rare ... but rugby needs to make sure it stays that way © PA Photos
The apparent abuse aimed from spectators at referee Matthew Carley as he left the field after last night's Bath-Northampton match is just the latest incident in what has been a depressing month for those who believe that rugby is played in a different spirit to football.
Yes, it was a tiny minority involved, as is almost always quickly pointed out, and passions run high when sport is involved. But that does not excuse such behaviour. And when treated in context with other incidents, it is hard not to start thinking something is going wrong at all levels.
In recent weeks we have had several open displays of dissent against referees from players in the Premiership. Still rare, but scenes that would have been unthinkable a few years ago. Coaches, under more pressure in the professional era, are more likely than ever to slam officials when their sides lose.
In both instances, it leads to an erosion of authority and respect towards referees and touch judges. If players and management can be seen mouthing off, then some spectators will start to think it's fine for them to do so.
And it spreads. The Newbury chairman was forced to publish a letter warning spectators such conduct would not be tolerated any more after what he saw as a decline in respect. A father was pictured tripping up a young player as he ran down the touchline in a match. A schoolboy saw nothing wrong in throwing a plastic bottle at a referee at Kingsholm.
Despite all this, rugby still has a deserved reputation for good behaviour in the stands and a high degree of respect towards officials. But it has a fight on its hands to preserve that and the authorities must act immediately to reinforce the powers available to officials and then back them to the hilt when people transgress.
The clubs as well must play their part and give no quarter those who abuse officials and opponents.
Last week I took my teenage daughters to a Championship football match and a Premiership game. They were amazed at the difference in behaviour by the crowd and players at the different sports, commenting how much respect and how little dissent there was at the rugby. They also noted the lack of segregation in the stands and the greater number of families at the Premiership clash.
That is a great selling point for rugby. It needs to do whatever is necessary to make sure that does not change.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Managing Editor, ESPN EMEA Digital Media
Communication error please reload the page.
The Football Association is to launch an investigation into the alleged spitting incident between Manchester United defender Jonny Evans and Newcastle striker Papiss Cisse
Greg Growden previews Super Rugby round 4. We've also got key stats, team news and all the line-ups as they are named to inform your ESPN Footytips Super Rugby picks
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen implores rugby to ask itself 'is this really the game we want?', "if we want to encourage people to watch the game"
Tyson Fury is willing to risk his shot at Wladimir Klitschko by facing a different opponent just to "keep busy"
Missing the cut in his first US appearance of 2015 was not what Rory McIlroy had in mind when he teed off at the Honda Classic last week
Could the Force's scrum woes and the general sluggishness of the pack affect Michael Foley's hopes of Wallabies role? Brett McKay asks the question in Three Points
Ireland have the world sitting up and taking notice - and rugby's structure in Europe will aid their Rugby World Cup bid, writes John Mitchell
One of world rugby's ultimate professionals, Super Rugby's milestone man Keven Mealamu quickly learned the value of a spare pair of boots
The Chiefs are keeping the ball alive when going into contact, and this makes their low turnover rate all the more impressive, Richard Kelly writes
Join Steve Bunce and Barry Jones each week for the latest news, views and debate from the boxing world.
Amir Khan is unlikely to face Kell Brook this summer as he looks to negotiate a fight with Miguel Cotto in America
Louis van Gaal wants his Manchester United players to cut out the backpasses to David De Gea as frustrations mount among supporters over his side's unadventurous approach this season
Brendan Rodgers admits Liverpool's defeat at Crystal Palace in November left him fearing for his job at Anfield
Andre Ward has warned Carl Froch that he will be calling all of the shots over their proposed title unification bout
Emre Can sees his long-term future at Liverpool as a midfielder, but insists he will never be the new Steven Gerrard
Eight years ago, Steve Bunce was offered the chance of buying a 'share' in Tyson Fury, and it would have been a shrewd investment if he had the money
He may try and play down his obsession with his appearance, but Cristiano Ronaldo has apparently been sending a personal stylist to regularly brush up his waxwork model
Who was the 100th man to win a world championship Grand Prix?
Paul Butler tells Inside Boxing he turned down the chance of a trial with Liverpool in order to focus on boxing - and it was the right choice
Some of the best fighters to ever glove up have plied their trade in the Octagon - now ESPN list the 10 best who have fought under the UFC banner