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Northern NSW Football has launched a Zero Tolerance policy to abuse of match officials for the 2024 season. Image: contributed

Zero tolerance to match official abuse

Rodney Stevens


Parents and fans on the sidelines of Clarence Valley soccer matches this year will notice a change after more than half of Northern NSW Football’s match officials quit refereeing in the past 12 months, the organisation has announced its new Zero Tolerance policy in 2024 to put an end to match official abuse across the region.

Through the Match Officials Support Standards -Zero Tolerance policy, Northern NSW Football NNSWF is introducing measures targeted at stamping out abuse, and creating a safer, supportive and welcoming environment for match officials in its competitions involving 208 clubs from Newcastle to the Queensland border.

The initiatives will be part of a three-pillar strategy to implement Zero Tolerance including: Clear messaging for everyone in the game, tangible support for match officials, and tougher sanctions.

Clear messaging will involve: Zero Tolerance banners at every ground, a mandatory meeting of club leaders, Youth match official armbands, green shirt reminders and a social media campaign.

The tangible support for Match Officials will include: Specific directives on dealing with abuse, exploring temporary dismissals for dissent, Increased presence of a NNSW Football Match commissioner and Support officer at 100 matches in 2024, a Referee support officer to escort officials to and from the field, the appointment of a Referee Wellbeing and Support Officer, and Referees reporting their matchday experience.

The tougher sanctions to be implemented are: Points deductions for match official abuse, significantly increased sanctions, minimum suspensions for match official abuse against minors of 12 months for non-players over 18, reduced tolerance for coach and team officials behaviour, minimum mandatory suspensions for spectators who abuse match officials, match officials will be advised of disciplinary outcomes, and suspensions will be published on the NNSWF website.

NNSWF CEO Peter Haynes said the organisation was fully committed to changing the culture towards match officials in its premier competitions which would require a whole game approach to changing behaviours, attitudes, actions of players, coaches, and spectators.

“One of the hardest things to do in any walk of life be it sport, or business is changing culture,” he said.

“But we are fully committed to taking a lead role on this and driving the cultural change we want to see in our sport in our region.”

NNSWF General Manager Referee Growth and Development Brad Carlin said the policy would help to provide more support and a better experience for match officials in the region.

“This policy will allow extra education to be given to match officials on how to deal with issues when they arise,” Carlin said.

“It will also provide additional support to match officials through multiple avenues including the new position of Referee Wellbeing and Support Officer that will be implemented to provide immediate and ongoing welfare support.”