REFEREES OF various sports have been attacked and threatened with stabbing, an Oireachtas committee has heard.
The FAI, GAA, IRFU and the Irish Soccer Referees Society were represented before the Joint Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media to discuss the issue which is leading to referees quitting.
Two-thirds of referees leave within two years due to the scale of abuse, the Football Association of Ireland said.
Gerard Perry, chair of the FAI referee committee, told the committee:
“Retention of referees remains an issue and the escalating abuse of match officials does not help in this regard.
“Anecdotally we lose 66 per cent of new referees within the first two years of them completing the referee beginner’s course. Exit interviews inform us that ‘referee abuse’ is the main reason for them stopping.
“At the start of 2021 we had 1,211 registered referees and that figure has already grown to 1,430 referees today after 581 recruits to the online course.”
Sean Slattery of the Irish Soccer Referees Society said abuse has included being attacked during games, physically hit or threats of "we'll get you in the car park".
He also said that in the past two months there have been three cases of assault in Dublin, and in each case the player was suspended for 12 months.
Director General of the GAA, Tom Ryan, said a difficult issue to resolve is the culture that surrounds the entire game.
“There is a pervading climate among those who watch and report on our games, and more significantly those anonymous commentators on discussion forums and social media, to persistently pass judgment.”
Donal Smyth, the national match officials manager at the GAA, said he knows of “top referees” who have received awful abuse.
“When the top referees are getting it, what is happening under-age?", he said.
The IRFU faces similar problem, with Dudley Phillips, the head of referees at the IRFU, saying the "abuse of match officials is on the rise."
"While rugby has a good reputation for respecting our officials, we are not immune and must continue to take the matter extremely seriously.
“Sport is one area impacted by what seems to be an increase in abuse in society in general,” he said.
“One only has to look at any of the many social media posts that arise from sport week in, week out to see evidence of this.”