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Why Referee Abuse Must End

The growth of rugby in the United States is constrained by the number of referees available and interested in performing this role, so as it follows, it is imperative that USA Rugby, NERRS, and referees themselves address a barrier and hardship involved in the growth of the referee community and each individual referee.


As the role is one that takes years of practice, study, and commitment, the treatment of referees by the players, coaches, administrators should be supportive of one another that serve the principles of the game and in a respectful manner.

Protocol for Handling Referee Abuse

For referee abuse conducted by on-field players, the Match Official may penalize a player or issue a card to the players; sideline behavior shouldn't be penalized and cards can't be shown to players off-the field, coaches, nor sideline members.


For referee abuse involving coaches, reserve players, or those who are along the sidelines not within the stands of a stadium setting who are observed or perceived to commit abuse against Match Officials, the following process should be followed:

  1. The Match Official will call time out and speak with the captain or the Head Coach.

  2. Request that the offending individual(s) are addressed and that they change their behavior immediately or else they will be ejected from the playing enclosure.

  3. Upon subsequent offense, the Match Official will call time-out and request that the offending individual(s) be removed from the playing enclosure.

  4. In the event of a third offense from others, or if the offending individual(s) refuses to leave, the Match Official will abandon the match.

Applications and Definitions 

World Rugby Law- Referee Abuse:

For the purpose of this policy, abuse is any conduct that falls under World Rugby Law 9, subsections 12,27, and 28, governing verbal and physical abuse, acts contrary to good sportsmanship, and respecting the authority of the Match Official. The application of this policy expressly extends this standard beyond participating players to include coaches, administrators, player reserves, medical personnel, photographers, or other persons allowed inside the playing enclosure or technical zones.

Definition - Match Official:

The center referee, any Assistant Referee (AR), any #4 appointed by the Local Society or Match Organizer, and/or any Field Marshal, charged with policing abuse of the referees.

Definition - Scope of Considered Actions:

Abuse can happen at any time that the Match Official is acting in their duties

  • May include arriving to and leaving the Match location

  • May include conducting personal warm-up and pre-match responsibilities

  • May happen away from the pitch through questioning/impugning honesty/integrity of match officials

Definition - Referee Abuse (includes but not limited to):

  • Any intentional, but nonconsensual, contact with any Match Official.

  • Verbal and nonverbal communication which contains foul or abusive language or which implies or directly threatens physical harm or injury of any sort to any Match Official.

  • Any threat of damage to or damage to a Match Official’s personal property.

  • Sexual or violent gestures and/or kicking or throwing objects in response to the Match Officials’ call, non-call, or other action in officiating the match.

  • Repeated instance of on-field player dissent (as defined in the World Rugby Laws).

  • Repeated questioning of calls during ongoing match play, whether to the center referee or to an AR, by those otherwise permitted to be in the playing enclosure (replacements, coaches, trainers, e.g.).

    • Only individuals who may raise questions with calls are head coaches and captains, and questions should be posed in a respectful manner directly to the center referee

      • A captain may politely speak to a Match Official during a match.

      • A coach may politely speak to a Match Official before and after the match.​

  • After being warned, as provided in this rule, any failure of any player, coach, administrator, medical and support personnel, or fan to immediately leave the playing enclosure or technical zone on the request of any Match Official.

Reporting Referee Abuse

Match Officials should report abuse in a manner that alerts the NERRS Executive Board, and referees should provide documentation of the abuse in a timely manner, preferably within no more than 30 days following the event, to relevant NERRS emails: || ||

  • NERRS is required to report to the Referee and Laws Committee all incidents of Referee Abuse and offenders must be cited using the formal process as outlined by the local Union, SRO, and USA Rugby Disciplinary Procedures.

  • Match Officials may choose to file a report of a crime to local authorities.

  • If a Referee believes that Abuse is not appropriately handled, they can invoke a process through the RLC JO.


Report - Key Components

  • ABCs - Accuracy, Brevity, Clarity

    • Be ACCURATE - Stick rigidly to the facts of the incident and don't include conjecture; Make sure the stated offense matches the incident described and double-check information.

    • Be BRIEF - The fewest words needed to convey what happened is typically best; Do not give opinions or recommendations.

    • Be CLEAR - Report the incident without confusing or conflicting statements

  • Pertinent Facts

    • Date

    • Teams involved and venue

    • Known identifying information of abuser(s) including names, role for team, and player number

    • Recollection of what was said/done and the surrounding context including time in the game and location.

    • For sideline behavior, whether or not there were technical zones and if TZ rules were followed.


Report - Example




Teams involved and Venue:

XXX Rugby Club at YYY Stadium

Known Identifying Information of Abuser:

John Smith (Player #N)

Best Recollection of Facts and Context: 

Smith repeatedly questioned calls during ongoing match play. To correct this in the first half, I had an informal conversation with XXX's captain to issue a warning and to request that they address their player, and then later in the first half I issued a penalty against Smith since they had failed to correct their behavior. In the second half and following a call that they disagreed with, Smith called me "cheat" and unleashed a stream of obscenities at me. I issued a red card for the behavior.

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