SA Rugby Union (Saru) president Oregan Hoskins on Thursday said players and coaches found guilty of assaulting referees should expect to be banned from the game for life.
Hoskins said he had written to Saru's 14 provincial unions, urging their disciplinary committees to take the strongest possible action against any individuals under their jurisdiction who physically or verbally abuse match officials.
“Anyone who physically attacks a referee should be banned for life from the game,” said Mr Hoskins.
“The message has to go out in the strongest possible terms that such actions will not be tolerated in South African rugby.
“People need to be banned and they need to be banned for life to drill the message home.”
Hoskins was responding to two recent incidents where a high school player was banned for an effective three years for head butting a referee during a match and a high school coach was awaiting sentence after pleading guilty to shoulder charging a referee.
Hoskins said his comments were not aimed at sentencing in the latter case, in which the judicial process had already begun.
“Attacks on referees are rare but we want to stamp out the idea, once and for all, that abusing the referee Ä either verbally or physically Ä is somehow acceptable and that 'taking it' is actually part of the official's job description,” Hoskins said.
“We have asked our provinces for zero tolerance in this matter. It is time to draw a line in the sand.”
Physical abuse of referees is regarded as the most serious offence a player or official can commit and is reflected on the International Rugby Board's schedule of recommended sanctions.
The entry-level sanction for physical abuse of a referee is a six-month ban, which can rise to a life ban.
“Let us have no sympathy for the assailants,” said Mr Hoskins.
“There is absolutely no reason why anyone involved should lay a finger on a referee.
“If it does not happen in the most pressured environment of Test or Vodacom Super Rugby, why should it happen at a Saturday morning school match?”
Hoskins said he expected provincial judicial committees to be similarly vigorous when it came to cases of on-field violence between players.
“Referee abuse is a blight on our game of which we should be ashamed,” he said.
“Only the strongest possible action appears capable of getting the message home.”
He said he had also written to the Schools' Rugby Association asking them to warn their members of Saru's stance.
Hoskins also challenged them to enforce traditional standards of respect and fair play as enshrined in the BokSmart programme, a national rugby safety certification process, to which all coaches and referees are signatories. – Sapa