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New Zealand Rugby echo referee’s abuse statement

BY Jack Tunney  ·  Monday Jun 26, 2023

Reported earlier, referee Ben O’Keefe shared a serious message to social media regarding the abuse that officials are currently finding themselves dealing with.

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Abuse of an official is an act that undermines rugby values, and generally those in the rugby community have a zero tolerance for it. Unfortunately many referees, including O’Keefe, appear to have noticed it starting to creep into our wonderful game.

Such was the impact of his statement, New Zealand Rugby have found themselves drawn in to providing solidarity for their officials. The original message O’Keefe wrote at the time, stated:

“Unfortunately, as a union referee at the highest level, I have had to accept and grow accustomed to the post-match vitriol that fans normalise post game,”

“It’s a sad reality that it doesn’t affect me anymore, but that doesn’t mean it’s ok.

“I think back to the Europa League Final referee walking through the airport and his family getting chairs thrown at them – I hope my family is never subjected to this but the direction some fans are going now in rugby, I know we are closer than we have ever been.

“This is one of many recent examples when someone has crossed the line towards a match official in Rugby.

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“Referees are part of the game, and we need support from players and coaches to have the tough conversations privately but to publicly back and support their officials – not criticise. This will change the way the fans treat us.

“Abuse is out there and for anyone going through it right now in any form please understand there is support there, people do love you, there is help available and if all else fails, send me a message and I would be happy to talk with you.

“Let’s celebrate the season, let’s celebrate what was a great final from the players.
“There were some excellent decisions, and some poor ones that I accept I made and need to improve on – continual growth is something that excites me to be better for the game.

“We need Rugby to be the best game in the world, on and off the field – let’s do it together.”

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Sharing his viewpoint, Mark Robinson, CEO of New Zealand Rugby stood by the official, echoing the message:

“New Zealand Rugby firmly stands behind Ben and all referees who are involved in our game. Ben is a hugely respected member of our rugby community and an outstanding match official.

“Referees play an integral part in our sport at all levels and I want to echo Ben’s comments, and make it very clear, that there is no place in our sport for abuse. I encourage everyone in the rugby community to play an active role in standing up for abuse and behaviour that goes against the values of the game.
 Mark Robinson, CEO New Zealand Rugby.”

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