New Canterbury United national league coach Sean Devine has served a five-match ban for a run-in with a referee during a spate of recent match official abuse incidents in the Mainland Football region.
Nelson Bays Football - a Mainland affiliate - is also investigating a case where a referee abandoned a Nelson first division game in Blenheim between the Marlborough Development team and the Nelson Suburbs reserve team after alleged abuse from the visiting team's bench.
Mainland Football chief executive Mike Coggan is determined to stamp out the problem.
"We can't continue to tolerate continual abuse of referees. We need to make sure the consequences are at the higher end because the lower end doesn't seem to have made a difference in the last few years.
"We can't be seen to continually give light sentences."
Coggan was disappointed that high profile coaches were clashing with referees.
Devine, a former Football League and A-League striker, was banned for five games after receiving a red card from referee Richard Jones while coaching the Cashmere Technical reserve team on May 10.
He was found guilty of "offensive, insulting, abusive language and/or gestures against a match official", according to the misconducts section of Mainland Football's website.
Devine told The Press he did not swear and had completed his ban. But he felt there needed to be "more consistency with the bans handed out" by the judiciary.
Meanwhile, officials have launched a probe into the Blenheim incident. A Fairfax Media report stated Marlborough referee Dave Baker was "allegedly subject to audible abuse from the visiting [team] management" after sending off two Nelson players. He chose to abandon the game early with Marlborough Development leading 3-2.
But Coggan said Nelson Bays Football general manager Clive Beaumont had received reports from match officials. A disciplinary hearing would be held next week.
Referee abuse is not a new problem for Mainland Football. Post-earthquake tensions were blamed for a steep spike in dissent cases against referees in 2011 with 10 red cards and 57 cautions issued by mid-July that year.
The situation improved in 2012, but Mainland issued a zero-tolerance policy after several extreme cases last year, most notably an assault on an assistant referee after a Mainland Premier League game between Western and Cashmere Technical. That led to a police senior constable, Keith Rose, being discharged without conviction and ordered to pay $1500 in emotional harm reparation by the Christchurch District Court.
Coggan said it was disappointing that the Canterbury referees organisation still reported that "referees feel unsafe at ASB Football Park," [Mainland's English Park headquarters].
"It's our responsibility to ensure they are safe [there] and other grounds. The only way to do that, other than to put up barriers to make sure they are physically protected, is to have very much a zero-tolerance policy."Mainland has launched a Keep It Positive campaign aimed at encouraging a higher standard of behaviour towards match officials from parents and supporters.
* Football is not the only Canterbury sport to have experienced referee abuse problems this year. Former Kiwis prop and ex-Canterbury Bulls and New Zealand Residents coach Brent Stuart received a five-game ban - later reduced to three weeks because of his previous clean slate - for swearing at a referee coaching Hornby against Linwood in a Canterbury premiership match.
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