Club rugby has been cancelled in one of South Africa's strongholds this weekend because of violence and abuse against referees.
The unprecedented action comes in the eastern seaboard city of Port Elizabeth where the referees, tired of the abusive attitude towards them from spectators, decided to lay down their whistles and go on strike this weekend.
The Eastern Province Rugby Union conceded there was no alternative but to cancel club matches.
The province was treasured as a historic base for black and coloured rugby and has become a political hot potato. It was home to the Southern Kings franchise which was set to re-enter Super Rugby in 2016 when South Africa was granted a sixth team in the expanded southern hemisphere showpiece.
The Sport24 website reported that the referees had tired of raising concerns over the escalating levels of verbal and physical harassment aimed at them at club matches and decided it was time for action.
They had cited threats of bodily harm, referees being spat on and needing to be physically protected by players and executive members. Recently a referee's car tyres were slashed after a game.
"We initially received a notification from the referees society that they were downing tools due to the ongoing harassment that their members were exposed to at club games.
''While we do not condone the method in which the referees dealt with the issue - as we have protocols in place to deal with such matters - following discussions held with representatives from the referees we have decided to cancel all games this coming weekend in sympathy with their concerns," EPRU president Cheeky Watson said.
"We as a union feel that this is simply unacceptable and will not condone this type of behaviour in any form whatsoever.
''We have already notified the clubs that all games for this coming weekend have been cancelled and have called on the clubs to address the issue of the abuse towards referees as a matter of urgency.
"We have also made it clear that, going forward, any club that fails to address this matter will face the harshest of actions which the union can impose."
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