Respect our officials or lose grassroots sport.
That is the warning from two local sports bodies who are trying to highlight the issue of abusive spectators.
Nelson Basketball and Nelson Netball have teamed up in a collaborative effort to stop the abuse of match officials.
Nelson Basketball general manager Frances Tilly and Nelson Netball Centre manager Lindsay Filiata have recently installed signs around Saxton Stadium which portray messages reminding supporters to respect our local whistle blowers.
“We started thinking of ways we could get the message out there and we thought a couple of signs would be a good reminder.”
Lindsay says side-line abuse is most prominent in the junior grades of netball.
“It really upsets me, the younger kids aren’t experienced enough to know how to deal with being intimidated, it’s bullying.”
While they say adult officials aren’t immune to abuse, they are more equipped to deal with it.
“It’s pretty hard to ask a 13-year-old girl to stand up to someone’s Dad and tell them if they carry on they will be ejected from the stadium,” Frances says. “Enough is enough and it needs to stop.”
Frances says supporters can change the tone of a game quite quickly.
“We are not trying to stop people from cheering on their teams but it’s just the lack of respect for the officials and not understanding that, if we didn’t have them, we wouldn’t have a game.”
As an experienced referee, Frances knows firsthand how vile supporters can be. “I’ve been called a lot of names refereeing college basketball, words that you wouldn’t want to print.”
Frances doesn’t make it known to players she is the general manager of Nelson Basketball and says the players aren’t afraid to let it fly.
“If they say that to me I’d hate to think what they’re saying to our younger refs.”
Lindsay says it’s quite frightening.
“It boils down to the fact you are shouting at a child who is not your own. When you break it down like that it sounds ridiculous, but it is happening.”
Frances says they are trying to develop a culture of not accepting abusive behaviour towards officials. “I don’t expect everything to change overnight but if we can get the message across that we don’t tolerate it.”
They say parents need to realise the level of game they are watching and have some compassion for our young officials.
“It’s like wanting [international rugby referee] Nigel Owens on a rippa rugby field.”
Frances and Lindsay say there are some fantastic pathways to international sport through officiating.
Lindsay cites local netball stalwart Vicki Reid as a prime example of the career opportunities.
“She wouldn’t have got there as a player, but she can hold her head up high and say I have been to the world champs as a statistician.”
Frances says refereeing is a much easier route to the representative level. “There can only be 10-12 players in a national team to which you have to beat thousands of others, but as a referee you’re probably in a national pool of 20, it is a very viable pathway.”
Lindsay says the first Saturday the officials saw the new signs, they were rapt. “They loved them, it just gives them something to point to and also makes them feel valued and supported.”
Lindsay and Frances say, if we all approach the game in the right spirit it would make for a better experience for everyone.
“Unless we put a stop to this now, there will not be any grassroots sport.”