Abusing referees at football matches could see spectators being sent on education cour-ses or even banned by clubs, under a new scheme.
As part of its Respect programme, launched in 2008 to combat abusive behaviour towards the game’s officials, the Football Association (FA) is piloting a scheme at 10 county FAs – including Oxfordshire.
The programme would work on a similar model to speed awareness courses offered to motorists caught speeding. In this case abusive spectators – including players who have been sent off – would be given a choice between paying a fine and being given a match-day suspension, or a fine and attending an awareness course.
It will apply to clubs playing in the Hellenic League, which includes teams such as Kidlington, Thame United, Carterton and Ardley United, and the leagues below that level. The Oxfordshire FA has issued fines as high as £250 in the past for incidents of misconduct.
It would not apply to teams playing under the Berks & Bucks FA.
Enforcement will rely heavily on the clubs, which would bear responsibility for fines and match-day ban breaches. The club would be given the fine then would seek compensation from the individual found guilty of misconduct.
Paul Lyon, 50, above, referees’ secretary of the Oxford Mail Youth Football League, welcomed the move. He said there were about 60 county referees aged under 18 and he worried about young referees being put off pursuing their career if they were abused.
The Cumnor father-of-five said: “We have a lot of younger referees, a lot of them do it as part of their sport GCSE qualifications.
“Abuse toward referees is an issue we constantly deal with and if they are a child obviously it is more serious.
“People attend a big game and shout things at the ref from the stands, then come to youth league games and think it is acceptable to do it there as well, but it isn’t.
“We have made great strides forward on this issue, but there is always more work to do.”
Matt Woods, 17, has been refereeing youth games for three years. The Cholsey teenager said that despite improvements, he still gets abuse from some managers.
He said: “One week you’ll have a great game with a team then another you’ll make one decision that doesn’t go their way and they’ll turn on you.
“It can be avoided by having good relationships with the managers and talking about expectations with them, but some do not talk to you.”
The Oxfordshire FA has dealt with about 150 misconduct cases linked to football in the last year. It said the aim of the new course was “education as an alternative to punishment.”
But it will not be offered to “serial offenders who seem unlikely to change their ways” or to anyone who re-offends within three years.
Oxfordshire FA chief executive Ian Mason said: “It is a bold move and shows the old fashioned views that we only exist to collect fines is changing and that we can offer alternatives.”
HOW IT WORKS
- The Oxfordshire FA receives a report of misconduct.
- It studies the accusations and begins to investigate and brings a charge forward if necessary
- Penalties for proven charges would be a fine with a suspension
- The club is contacted in relation to the charge and may accept it or refute it
- A three-person commission is set up of FA county officials and/or independent members from local teams, who are trained by the FA
- If the charges are proven, the history of the individual or club is looked at for previous offences and a fine and suspension is set accordingly
- The club receives any fines and must seek compensation from the individual and must also enforce match-day bans