University of Portsmouth research supports referees’ calls for harsher sentences after rise in assaults on officials

THE chairman of Referees’ Association has warned a match official will eventually be killed unless more serious punishments are handed out to those who abuse them.

Referee's Association chief, Paul Field, has warned a match official will eventually be killed without harsher punishments for offenders.


Photo - Craig Williamson / SNS Group.
Referee's Association chief, Paul Field, has warned a match official will eventually be killed without harsher punishments for offenders. Photo - Craig Williamson / SNS Group.

Paul Field, who heads the organisation, has subsequently written to the Sentencing Council and submitted a report to suggest changes to the guidelines to increase penalties for assaults on football referees and all other sports officials.

The report included research conducted by the University of Portsmouth which found 45 per cent of match officials in England across rugby league, rugby union and cricket feel verbal abuse in general had increased.

The referee’s chief also cited two incidents last weekend in which there were reports of football referees being assaulted.

Mr Field commented: ‘I am convinced one day a match official in any sport will be assaulted and either seriously injured or killed. The warning signs are there and we have to do something. Doing nothing is not an option.’

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The Referee’s Association is urging all local officials to write to their MPs to garner political support to provide greater protection for referees and umpires officiating at a local level.

Mr Field added: ‘We would call on all match officials to write to your local MP and get that support. Young people should not have to go to a game of football and be abused and that is what you’ve got.’

The organisation has so far received the support of 50 MPs, while Steve Double, the parliamentary private secretary to the Department of Health and Social Care, is set to write to the Secretary of State for Justice.

The Sentencing Council’s role is to promote greater consistency in sentencing. The Association feels there need to be greater consistency in sentencing for assaults committed against officials to ensure parity with other aspects of society.

Mr Field added: ‘The piece of work we have done is around increasing the sentencing in this country for those who attack match officials. If you are a park warden and assaulted to the same velocity as a referee, the person who committed the assault on the park warden would get a higher sentence.

‘Likewise, someone attacked a police dog recently and they got a higher sentence than someone who assaulted a referee and knocked them out.’

The Referees’ Association has worked with the external affairs team at the Football Association to ensure the submission carries its support, and with the governing bodies of rugby union, rugby league, cricket and hockey.

Of the 6,500 referees in England, France and the Netherlands surveyed between 2018 and 2020, 18.9 per cent in England had experienced physical abuse at some stage of their refereeing career.

Mr Field said: ‘It is not acceptable to assault a match official. It does really impact on people’s mental health too because you don’t go out there on a Sunday morning to be assaulted.’

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