A ruling by the Canberra Region Rugby League’s Disciplinary Committee earlier this month could prove to be a watershed moment for the code.
A spectator received a five-and-a-half-year ban by the Committee after being found guilty of homophobic abuse of a touch judge during a Canberra Raiders Cup game between Yass and West Belconnen in Yass on 28 May.
This means the spectator can’t have any involvement in rugby league in any form, including training, playing or attending games, until the end of 2027.
Canberra Region Rugby League general manager Mark Vergano said the league was keen to send a message with the tough penalty.
“That’s exactly what we want to send out. We expect respect and compliance and we will take as tough as possible action to act as a deterrent and as a statement of intent,” Mr Vergano said, adding that the protection of match officials was uppermost in the minds of the committee.
“Match officials must be protected. What they do is valuable and we are losing too many match officials across all sports because of abuse.”
The ban reflects this purpose.
“Our participation numbers have grown from between three to five per cent but the numbers for our match officials remains static. There has been a further impact with match officials hit by COVID and the flu.”
The tough action taken by the league also reflects the need to ensure spectator comfort, as acknowledged by the general manager, who noted that “other spectators don’t need to hear abuse like that.”
Mr Vergano says the actions taken by the Canberra Region Rugby League have the backing of the clubs.
He is particularly praiseworthy of the action taken by the Yass Club. The game was halted until the spectator was identified and removed from the grounds.
Says Mr Vergano, “Yass handled it very well, they were proactive and we are seeing support right across the league.”
With this action, the consequences of abusing match officials are well understood.