Rugby referees and officials are being subjected to increasing levels of abuse during Borders games, according to their representative group.
The worsening situation is persuading some refereees to give up presiding over matches – and the clubs are being urged to do something about it, where possible.
All local rugby clubs have received a letter from the Borders Rugby Referees Society (BRRS) to raise awareness of the “disturbing upward trend” in the levels and extent of abuse being endured by match officials, and asking if the clubs would consider implementing any measures to help stamp it out.
In the letter, honorary chairman Colin Henderson said the BRRS had been involved with four complaints in only seven weeks from referees to the Scottish Rugby Union. In two of these cases, the abuse was reportedly so bad that the referees declared they would no longer take charge of games.
“It is with a real sense of disappointment that the BRRS is compelled to write to all Borders clubs in an effort to raise awareness and concern about the regrettable and increasing trend of referee abuse that is being levelled at rugby match officials in the Borders,” said Mr Henderson.
“The BRR S is seeking your club’s support to halt this trend before it becomes any more significant than it already is.
“In the last seven weeks alone, the BRRS has supported our referees in pursuing four red card-equivalent match official abuse complaints to the Scottish Rugby Union.
“As a direct result of this abuse, the BRRS has been advised by two of the affected referees that they will no longer referee rugby matches.
“At this time of significant referee shortages, the BRRS cannot afford to lose referees to an issue that could be prevented.
Mr Henderson said the BRRS believed clubs themselves were responsible for the behaviour of their players, coaches and spectators.
Match official abuse was unacceptable in any form and it was imperative that the BRRS, and all the Borders clubs, worked together to eradicate “this increasing issue” and return the game to upholding values of respect upon which it had always been based.
“The BRRS will robustly support our match officials and formally pursue any case of referee abuse levelled at them and will encourage the Scottish Rugby Union to sanction both those individuals guilty of this abuse alongside any club that does not intervene to prevent this from happening,” continued Mr Henderson.
“ We will continue to monitor the situation as the season progresses and, should abusive practice continue, we will utilise all the disciplinary options open to us to prevent reoccurrence.
In a direct message to the clubs, he added: “We would be grateful if, as a club and partner in rugby, you could consider this communication carefully and take necessary measures to convey the important content of this letter to all stakeholders within your club and to highlight that referee abuse in any form will no longer be tolerated.
“Rugby is for the players, the club officials and the spectators but it also requires a referee. It is imperative that we all work together to uphold the traditional values of the game.”
One local club, Peebles, declared its support for the venture and urged others to collaborate in the reporting of incidents.
A statement on website said: “Match officials represent a critical resource to our sport and are a resource which is scarce enough within our sport in the Borders, without abusive behaviour resulting in further attrition to their number.
“Peebles Rugby operates a zero-tolerance approach to match official abuse and we strongly encourage and welcome members’ co-operation in the reporting of incidents of this variety to the executive committee for investigation and pursuit, as required via such disciplinary avenues as are available to the club.”