Capital Football is facing a referee revolt on the eve of the Canberra premier league finals series amidst claims abuse of officials has reached its worst point in 10 years.
Up to 40 referees have converged on two meetings during the past month as frustration about Capital Football's failure to act on the poor behaviour reaches boiling point.
Capital Football is seeing red.
It could leave Capital Football in crisis as the governing body looks to appease officials ahead of the opening week of the finals series following claims of death threats, sexist remarks and physical abuse.
Match officials have been left believing the governing body is failing to impose sanctions listed in Capital Football’s own disputes and disciplinary regulations.
Capital Football chief executive Phil Brown says the problem has been aggravated in recent weeks and they have to find a solution, but some feel there is a culture in soccer that has long made referee abuse the norm.
"It was noted by a number of long-serving referees that these motherhood statements outlining best intentions and promising improvement have been made a number of times over the past decade, but these have not translated into tangible results to date," an email from a band of referees to Capital Football officials read.
Brown and Capital Football chairman Mark O'Neill did not return Fairfax Media's calls.
Capital Football will meet with club presidents on August 22 to discuss concerns of referees and possible support mechanisms, with whistleblowers keeping a keen eye on proceedings.
A growing number of referees believe Brown's comments about stamping out the behaviour will come to no avail because they are hearing similar lines trotted out every season.
The number of referees in Capital Football's ranks is already a concern with a host of match officials hanging up the whistle in the past 18 months largely due to the toxic environment they encounter at some games.
Officials have compiled a document containing 36 incidents from the past four years they do not believe were adequately sanctioned by Capital Football, ranging from physical abuse (including punching and spitting) to verbal (death threats, sexist and violent remarks), as well as derogatory statements made on social media.
Capital Football boss Phil Brown.
Some officials claim to have been abused by coaches and spectators during matches, only for Capital Football to let the incident go untouched, or lighten sanctions.
One such incident has occurred recently, with a spectator banned for sexist remarks made on July 21 continually showing up at Canberra FC matches.
An incident report obtained by Fairfax Media states a Canberra Olympic under 20s player was suspended for seven matches for an expletive-ridden tirade directed at a referee last year. The suspension was annulled after one game, with a tribunal opting in favour of a suspended 10-match ban until the end of 2018 to apply for any offences against match officials.
An alleged death threat made by a Cooma Tigers under 20s player last year resulted in a three-game ban, with a further two matches suspended until the end of 2018.
It is not just on the field – one report claims officials were locked in their change rooms as Riverina Rhinos players bashed on the door on June 23 this year.
Referees have taken a proactive approach by delivering an action plan in a meeting with Capital Football officials with short and mid-term plans designed to ensure the safety of whistleblowers.
"Having referees is one of the key components to player satisfaction, and one of the hardest things for us to do. If you look at our refereeing base, 2017-18, 45 per cent of our referees aged between 18 and 30 left the game," Brown said on ABC Grandstand last Saturday.
"It is a real challenge for us, and a real problem. One of the big problems that we face is the environment they encounter at games.
"Over the last two to three weeks in particular, there has been a bit of a spike in verbal abuse at referees that we are taking a firm stance on. It is something we definitely need to work on."
Brown did not elaborate on how Capital Football will look to fix the problem before he steered the conversation in the direction of ground concerns with the ACT government.
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