Group 20 rugby league
THE Group 20 executive could take the extreme measure of stripping first-grade teams of competition points in an effort to stop the sideline abuse that is prompting fed-up referees to walk away from the game.
One first-grade referee has already resigned this year after a spectator walked onto the field during one match and unleashed a torrent of angry criticism while he was running the sidelines, and the Group 20 Referees Association (G20RA) is fearful of more following suit should it continue.
Group 20 secretary Rocci DiSalvatore told The Area News some of the attacks - which have come from supporters, players, club officials and even trainers - have been racially-motivated and are putting the future of the competition at risk.
"We're really going to clamp down on this now," he said.
"We all know we're short on referees and we need to encourage the young blokes to come through the system.
"You can still yell at games but to abuse them, to call them discriminative names or cheats, is not on.
"Trainers are going on the field and telling referees about things that happen in backplay, but they can't go out there and call him a cheat.
"They are there to look after injured players - that's their duty, full stop. Nothing more.
"It's the responsibility of the clubs to make sure it's not happening."
DiSalvatore said the Group 20 executive will meet with clubs next month to lay down the law but warned they are ready to hit clubs where it hurts the most - not in the hip pocket, but in the premiership points column on the ladder.
"We've got to clean our own group up and we might have to look at the loss of competition points," he said.
"If we can prove it beyond doubt, I reckon that's the best way - because that's where it scares them.
"Fines will only do so much."
Mark Stenhouse, president of the G20RA, said referees expect and accept that criticism will always be a part of their job.
But this year, Stenhouse believes it has gone too far.
"We're short (on numbers), there's no doubt about that, and this doesn't help one little bit," he said.
"At least the boys we have got at the moment are fully committed and running three, four, five games each, every weekend.
"But that's a heap of the problem - if you've got something thinking about doing the job, and then they go to a game of footy and see what they cop, they think twice.
"We know we're in the firing line. We're not silly - we're going to get yelled at, that's part and parcel of the game.
"But when it gets a bit personal, it's hard on the young kids we've got running the lines."
The problem is not isolated to rugby league - most football codes in Griffith are already down to bare bones in terms of referees, and last year, The Area News revealed that abuse was driving young refs away from overseeing games in the Griffith District Football Association.
But DiSalvatore admitted the issue is "coming to a head" in Group 20 after an increase in incidents this year.
"There's a proper process to follow for clubs if they're not happy about the referees," he said.
"We're trying to make it a family thing and people are just getting sick of it.
"But unless we know what's going on, we can't act on it. We can't be at every game at every ground.
'We need people and clubs to file official complaints."