Northern Ireland

Coleraine Rugby Club: Referees put under pressure to return

Coleraine Rugby Ground Image copyright Google
Image caption The club apologised to the referee in September

Rugby referees were put under pressure to return to a club when they still had safety concerns after a female referee was verbally abused.

Ulster referees refused to officiate at any Coleraine RFC home matches in the wake of the incident in March.

BBC News NI has seen a letter from the Irish Rugby Football Union's (IRFU) Ulster Branch asking referees to return to the club.

On Monday, the union said it had "no further comment to make on the matter".

Grainne Crabtree was the target of sexist, verbal abuse as she officiated a Kukri Ulster Rugby Championship game.

The letter, which is dated 13 June 2018, was sent to the Ulster Society of Rugby Football Referees (USRFR) after Coleraine RFC received an initial sanction of a suspended £2,000 fine.

It included a list of conclusions drawn up by a sub-committee tasked with resolving the dispute.

"We unanimously feel that for the good of the game, and to ensure that no unintended precedent is created, the USRFR should withdraw its threatened sanction," it said.

Image copyright The Front Row Union
Image caption Referee Grainne Crabtree said she was subjected to a "tirade of profanities and sexual remarks"

'Extremely concerned'

In it, the Ulster Branch insisted that action had been taken by Coleraine RFC to prevent a similar incident happening again, including issuing its members with its code of conduct.

These actions, it said, would make Coleraine RFC "one of the safest grounds in Ulster" for referees.

It outlined concerns that the referee boycott would indirectly punish other clubs who were due to play games there, and said the sub-committee was "extremely concerned" at the knock-on effect it could have on completing various rugby leagues in Ireland.

It warned that the USRFR could have been in breach of its own by-laws in boycotting the club.

Image copyright Getty Images

Ulster Branch said it shared the "disgust and upset" felt by the USRFR in relation to the "appalling abuse" the referee was subjected to, and its "disappointment" that those responsible have not been identified or disciplined.

They also included a draft letter that it recommended sending to Coleraine RFC on behalf of the USRFR, proposing an end to the threat of a boycott.

However, the USRFR refused to return to the club as it did not feel a strong enough sanction had been handed down.

A statement issued by the USRFR in September said that the society "must have confidence in the support and governance of the clubs for the safety and well-being of our referees".

Referees returned to the club on 27 October, six months after the incident, following a second investigation by the Ulster Branch which led to a £5,000 fine for Coleraine RFC.

The club issued a written apology to the referee in September.

On Monday a spokesperson for the Ulster Branch said: "As a detailed review has been completed with the subsequent sanctions accepted by all parties, the IRFU (Ulster Branch) has no further comment to make on the matter."

Red cards

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Ulster Rugby authorities have carried out two investigations into the incident

In a statement issued to BBC News NI last week, a Coleraine RFC spokesperson said: "A plan is now in place at the club to ensure that Coleraine remains a safe place for spectators, players and officials and we look forward to welcoming visiting teams, their supporters and of course our match officials."

Those responsible for the abuse were spectators. No-one has been identified or disciplined over the incident.

The letter also revealed the number of red cards handed down to players in Ulster for referee abuse in the past five years.

Of the 179 cards issued, 31 were for incidents involving abuse of a referee.

According to the document, all of those red cards have been upheld and sanctions handed down to those responsible.

Related Topics

More on this story