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Referee abuse: ‘It’s mostly parents... They encroach on the pitch and think they’re right in every way’

Referee David Murphy says abusive comments often come from the sidelines

Referee David Murphy was overseeing an under-16s camogie match in south Dublin last November when he had to have a parent removed from the sideline.

Murphy, who has been refereeing GAA across all levels for 15 years, recalls that the man “started cursing at me over a particular decision that day”.

“He was very aggressive and abusive and was shouting: ‘You’re not f**king seeing it right, that’s my f**king daughter’,” Murphy says.

“Their team was actually winning at that stage. I was explaining to him my decisions and I said ‘look I’m going to have to call this game off if you don’t get out’. I eventually had to ask the manager to get the parent off the sideline.


“His daughter’s team went on to win the game ... He again came up to me saying ‘you got that [decision] wrong, how did you not see that, you don’t know what you’re doing’.

“The umpires and other people actually had to step in and tell him to get away.”

Murphy, who works as a secondary schoolteacher in north Dublin, filed a report after the game and said the club was issued with a warning and a fine.

“It was a big club so I don’t think a fine would mean that much to them and there was no suspension given to the parent,” he says.

It is not the first time Murphy has been subject to abuse on the pitch. He was recently refereeing a ladies college final when he was approached by a player from the losing side afterwards.

“She [the player] came up to me, slapped me on the shoulder hard and said ‘you f**ked that up, didn’t you’,” Murphy says. “I was shocked, I took a step back and said ‘you can’t put your hand on me’ and she said ‘you need to learn the f**king rules’. I’m here to referee, not to play a match and have someone put their hands on me.”

There have been a number of alleged attacks on referees at GAA matches in recent months. A referee officiating at a minor championship game in Ballyforan, Co Roscommon required medical attention after he was allegedly assaulted during the second half of the game last August.

Gardaí also investigated an alleged attack on a referee following a Wexford GAA Junior A football championship game in Whiterock Hill in September.

“We’re hearing of a lot of incidents happening in different counties across different sports where people are losing their head and taking things into their own hands,” says Murphy.

“I’ve been doing this a long time and when it [abuse] comes from players on the pitch, I usually nip it in the bud straight away.

“What I’m seeing at the moment though, is a lot of abuse from parents on the sideline, and these would generally be at underage level.

“I have very few incidents with players, it’s mostly parents. If they’re showing that kind of example, it will come through eventually. People are getting more and more boisterous and they’re encroaching on the pitch and they think they’re right in every way.”

Murphy says his younger brother, who also referees GAA matches, was followed to his car after a junior football match last year by players from the losing side who were “abusing him and trying to intimidate him”.

He believes clubs need to facilitate information nights for parents, teams, coaches and mentors about what is and isn’t acceptable on the sidelines as well as heavier suspensions and “less loopholes” from county boards.

“There’s not really heavy suspensions for these kind of things,” he says. “There’s just so many loopholes. Suspensions get appealed and they end up getting off. County boards need to be tougher.

“At the end of the day, these are amateur sports, this isn’t our full-time job. This is a part-time thing for all of us. It’s not for the money, for me, it’s mostly for the enjoyment, it’s a way of getting out and being social but it can be draining when people are coming at you constantly.”

Government moves to tackle abuse

Government officials have begun discussions with Sport Ireland to examine what actions can be taken to tackle abuse aimed at referees, Minister for Sport Thomas Byrne has said.

Mr Byrne said it is “incumbent” on sporting organisations to ensure incidents are dealt with “strongly and appropriately” and that a safe environment is provided for “referees, officials and players”.

Mr Byrne said it is not acceptable for anyone involved in sport to be subjected to any form of abuse, violence or discrimination “in any shape or form and I condemn any such behaviour”.

“My officials have commenced discussions with Sport Ireland on this serious matter with a view to seeing what actions can be implemented to ensure that integrity is a value and behaviour evident across all levels of sport,” he said. “However, the primary responsibility for ensuring a respectful and disciplined environment rests with individual participants and their national governing bodies.”