A Member of Parliament has called for more protection for referees in grassroots football following a series of attacks on officials in his local Sunday League.
Nuneaton MP Marcus Jones spoke out in the House of Commons this month after two serious assaults prompted referees in the Nuneaton Sunday League to go on strike earlier this season.
One of the attacks, which took place in Bedworth in September, has seen a player banned for five years by the FA for punching a referee in the face.
The Conservative MP, a former Sunday league player himself, believes that referees often fail to receive “the full protection of the law” when assaults take place on the field of play and has vowed to raise the issue with Home Secretary Teresa May.
“In recent months two referees officiating the Nuneaton and District Sunday League have been badly assaulted by players,” said Jones.
“Because those incidents take place on the pitch, the authorities do not apply the same gravity to them as they would if they happened elsewhere, so I decided to raise this issue in Parliament to ask what more the Government do to protect referees in the amateur game.
“Verbal abuse and physical attacks on referees at any level of the game is completely unacceptable, so I will be raising the issue further with the Home Secretary to see if anything can be done to give referees the full protection of the law when incidents happen on the football pitch.”
The Football Association launched the Respect Programme in 2008 to tackle abusive and unacceptable behaviour towards referees. 850 leagues and 52,000 teams have since signed up to the programme.
The FA has recruited some famous names to help promote Respect – including actor Ray Winstone, World Cup referee Howard Webb and then-England manager Fabio Capello – but some argue that its success at grassroots level has been undermined by an inability to stamp out harassment of officials in the professional game.
According to Jones, Sports Minister Helen Grant has “acknowledged that the Football Association and Sport England have invested £60m to help raise standards” and given her “support for the full protection of the law for officials wherever attacks take place to ensure that community football is safe and enjoyable.”