Off the Wall

In recent weeks there has been an alarming number of incidents of parents behaving badly, and players behaving badly, at junior league, union, and aussie rules matches in the three eastern states.

The position is rapidly becoming a real challenge for team sports generally. Rugby league is being singled out unfairly - from what I can pick up parental misbehaviour, and player misbehaviour is happening in all football codes, and other team sports.

But it is a real challenge for rugby league clubs at a time when rules and soccer are stepping up efforts to raid the ranks of current, and potential, junior teams - and schools.

Today's Brisbane "Courier Mail" reports, on its front page, that junior rugby league clubs in South East Queensland are hiring off-duty police, and security firms, to keep the peace at junior matches.

One club, the Aspley Creek Crushers, pays for three police to attend their Friday night games. The adjoining club, Aspley Juniors, employs private security staff.

The Brisbane junior rugby union has taken action against disciplinary action parents this year following a series of nasty sideline incidents.

It is no better in Sydney. The Penrith Panthers have had to impose long suspensions on officials - as I recall a coach and trainer who are parents of players - over abuse and threats against a referee and other officials.

The referee who was abused and threatened was only 15 or 16 years old.

Clubs, and game administrators generally, are doing the best they can, but one has to wonder where it is all going to end?

There have even been suggestions that some matches should be played without spectators! Surely we don't have to go to that extreme, or do we?

What needs to also be stressed is that there is no evidence the problem is worse in league than it is in rules or soccer. The Melbourne media has been focussing on parents behaving badly at junior rules games.

Rugby league has shown up Australian rules in regard to dealing with spectators having badly at NRL and AFL matches. At the end of Origin Three at Lang Park, a lowlife tipped beer over a NSW Blues player. He was taken to court and fined $250. Not an adequate fine, but better than what happened at The Gabba last weekend.

A woman - who is a Brisbane Lions member - threw beer over a player from the opposing team. No charges have been laid...and there seems no interest in the AFL to do so!

The issue of crowd behaviour at senior matches has long been on the radar. But in recent years, and more particularly in recent months, it has become a real problem for junior sport. And it is parents, and even officials, who are the ones behaving badly.

What the ARL, and the NRL, have to do is ensure that every club where sideline, and even on field violence and abuse, especially racial abuse, is a problem, deals firmly with the issue.

And they must have effective communication with schools, and education authorities, so that this issue is not used to erode the standing of rugby league in schools and among juniors.

There simply has to be a zero tolerance policy every time parents, or officials, step right out of line.

The argument is being advanced that what is happening among parents and spectators merely reflects what is happening in sections of the wider community.

That may be true - but it is not an excuse for doing nothing about it when it impacts on rugby league. And impacting on rugby league it most surely, and sadly, is.