Some of the spectators are as bad as on-field thugs
Conduct on the sporting field often reflects the values of our society.
As a young lad growing up in Western Sydney and attending Catholic Schools in the 1980s and 1990s it was almost pre-ordained that I would play rugby league - the game that the Patrician Brothers taught me was the game “they played in heaven”.
While the behaviour I witnessed on the sporting field was less than saintly, rugby league became a great training ground for me and many of my team mates as we sought to grow and develop as young boys on the road to manhood.
I played the game for 13 years and refereed the code for 8 years. To this day, I love my league and reflect fondly on the impact the game has had on my character development.
For the game that I grew up thinking was played in heaven, this has been a hellish year.
There has been much written and said about the high profile NRL stars that have brought the game into disrepute this year. For me, the most disturbing stories have been those relating to the bad behaviour of parents and players in our Junior League competitions.
During my eight years as a junior rugby league referee, I saw some tense moments on the field involving both players and parents. However, I never witnessed I have never seen a spectacle as disgraceful as that seen in my local district’s junior league competition under 16s grand final last weekend between Blacktown City and Lower Blue Mountains, which erupted in violence.
Something has gone drastically wrong when young players are carted off to hospital at the end of a game because a handful of young thugs have decided to punch their way through to the final whistle.
What made last weekend’s incident even uglier were the reports that team officials were hurling abuse at the referee, and parents were congratulating their children on their thuggish behaviour with high fives as they came off the field.
None of this is exclusive to rugby league, and we have seen examples of this behaviour in other codes and other sports right around the country.
But what does this say about the values of some elements within our society?
Thankfully, these elements are still a minority. It was heartening to see the Lower Mountains players handling the situation with great maturity.
In my role as a local member I see the great contributions of thousands upon thousands of volunteers who make weekend and junior sport possible.
Most parents encourage their kids to play sport because they know the value of physical fitness, discipline and team work, and it is the many sacrifices being made by parents and volunteers all around this country that have contributed to Australia being such a great sporting nation – consistently punching above our weight in international competition.
As a result of last weekend’s incident the Penrith and District Junior Rugby League Association has taken decisive action and imposed a 20 year ban on one player, effectively ending his association with rugby league, and bans of between two and five years on two others.
The incident was so serious that the police are investigating and may even lay assault charges. I see no reason why incidents of this type perpetrated on the sporting field should be treated any differently to common assault simply because they are perpetrated on the sporting field rather than the street corner.
The consequences for those players involved have been severe, and the Penrith District Junior Rugby League officials should be congratulated for their tough stand against such disgraceful behaviour.
But what are the consequences for those parents and club officials who were allegedly abusing the referee, giving high fives to the players and creating the culture at their club that allowed this type of behaviour?
For those of them living out their dreams of a sporting career vicariously through their children, a 20 year ban is going to hurt, but I suspect there will be some who will defiantly linger around the sidelines egging on other players to “bring back the biff”.
Mark Latham once said that parents yelling abuse at the referee at their children’s game on a Saturday morning was “part of the Australian way”.
I couldn’t think of anything further from the truth.
There is nothing Australian about parents undermining the authority of referees and officials, without whom competition sport could not be played. There is nothing Australian about parents allowing a game of children’s sport to degenerate into gratuitous violence. And there is nothing Australian about parents shouting advice to their kids on how to send an opposition player to hospital.
Sometimes in sport, just as in life, you may be on the wrong end of a poor decision, but one of the great responsibilities of a parent is to show your children how to take the bad decisions with as much grace and dignity as the good ones.
As a parent who is now taking my own children to weekend sport, I hope that they too, will learn some important life lessons and values on the field just as I did.
I also hope that the mobs of angry sideline parents out there wake up to themselves and realise that they are spoiling some of the best years of their children’s lives. It’s time to grow up and set an example for your children, because there is no room in sport for violence, on or off the field.
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