Referee hits out at threats in Canterbury games
Canterbury's rugby league referee chief, Stan Hansen, has lifted the lid on referee abuse and "fears for the sport's future" if clubs do not tackle the issue.
The province's head whistleblower quit his post last week and yesterday revealed the extent of the code's most pressing problem in Canterbury, saying "clubs have got to get the message across that it's not OK to abuse touch judges and referees", some of whom "refuse to go to [Cuthberts Green-based club] Celebration for games because of the threats, intimidation and abuse they have received".
Hansen, the NZRL southern zone referees committee convener, was the referee in charge of the Northern Bulldogs-Celebration Lions 16-years-match at Kaiapoi on May 12 when players, team officials and spectators became involved in a mass brawl.
He hit out at a New Zealand Rugby League decision last week to reduce fines imposed after the junior grade brawl and revealed there had been an exodus of referees because of the abuse problem, with some refereeing up to three games a weekend to make up the shortfall.
Despite that, some were forced to "get in their cars and drive off straight after the game" as they feared for their own and their family's safety.
Hansen said the referees committee now refused "to supply touch judges to premier games because they are getting too much abuse".
"If referees are being abused, they won't do it. We've had a lot who had said, 'I've had a gutsful' ..."
The NZRL said they would withdraw refereeing services to Celebration Lions premier grade matches if "there's another complaint about match officials being threatened or intimidated".
But Hansen has had enough after "13 or 14 years" refereeing rugby league following stints as a whistleblower in rugby union and touch.
"I still love the game and I fully support what [general manager] Craig Kerr and the Canterbury Rugby League are trying to do to stamp out referee abuse in very trying conditions."
Hansen made his decision to quit just before the appeal committee released its decision. But he said yesterday it was "the final straw".
The committee – chaired by Dunedin crown solicitor Robin Bates – upheld the CRFL's findings against the Bulldogs and Celebration, two players and trainers Mathias Pitama (Bulldogs) and Glen Bradbrook (Celebration) but reduced the player bans from six games to four, halved Celebration's fine to $1250 and cut the Bulldogs' from $2500 to $750.
Pitama and Bradbrook's 19-month bans were reduced to 12 months. They are now free to take part at the start of the 2013 season.
Hansen was happy with the CRFL penalties and said the NZRL had "opened a can of worms" and laid themselves open to having every judicial decision and penalty appealed.
He stressed he still loved rugby league. "But it's terrible what's happening. The [southern zone] appeals committee got it all wrong. They certainly didn't take into account the extreme violence that happened. Their decision has left a lot of people wondering what the hell is going on and what will happen next. The NZRL have opened up a can of worms."
Hansen said he saw "parents kicking kids on the ground and women getting punched in the face" at the Kaiapoi game. "It rates right up [there] of the most violent acts I've ever seen" at a sporting event.
Hansen said he was not told the hearing was being held and was disappointed not to be invited to answer any queries about his report to the CRFL, which Celebrations officials disputed.
Hansen said the Northern Bulldogs had also had problems with sideline abuse in the past but new president Llew Timpson was "doing a fantastic job out there trying to tidy it up". "But that incident [in the 16 years game] put them right back on their heels" and took issue with Celebration spokesman Murray Watkinson's submission to the appeal committee that Celebration had "endeavoured to create a family-friendly safe environment".
"Seventy per cent of the Celebration people are very nice and they've got some darn good players. But, it's the other 30 per cent that's the problem," said Hansen, who noted Celebration had had a player sent off in each of their last four premier games. "They've had more players ordered off than anyone else this season.
"Two weeks ago, there was another player ordered off from Celebration and another player got ordered off after the game for threatening the referee. Murray was ordered to appear before the [CRFL] judiciary on a charge of abusing match officials but he resigned [his club position]."
Hansen said match official abuse was not confined to the Celebration club. Boozing spectators were part of the problem.
"When a referee is being abused, there's usually a box of beer among the people doing the abusing."
Hansen reiterated that without referees, games could not go ahead.
The Press attempted to contact Watkinson and other Celebration officials last night but no-one was available.
- © Fairfax NZ News
Family counts blessings after superbug scare (graphic content)