Raelene Castle says violence on the sidelines threatens the “very fabric” of junior sport. Photo: Louise KennerleyRugby league needs to be saved from an epidemic of violence and abuse at junior league level according to Canterbury Bulldogs boss Raelene Castle, who has called an emergency meeting next week to tackle the crisis.
Ms Castle will meet with NSW Rugby League hierarchy on Friday to deal with the “complex problem”, which she believes is threatening the “very fabric” of junior sport.
In Sydney’s eastern suburbs, coaches have been slapped with bans of up to five years and junior clubs have received four-figure fines as the South Sydney District Junior Rugby Football League attempts to curb a spate of ugly incidents, some of which required NSW Police intervention. The city-wide Sydney Combined Competition threatened to disqualify all of its clubs after off-field brawls, injuries and stand-offs that included poles being brandished as makeshift weapons.
“It’s happening in rugby, in AFL, it’s happening across junior sport,” said Ms Castle, the former New Zealand netball head.
“Trust me, I have seen intimidating behaviour on the side of netball courts too.”
“This goes further than sport. Urgent work needs to be done around the sideline behaviour of adults because as we know, children model their own behaviour on how their parents go about things. Coaches and trainers need to realise that under nines and under 11s are not playing for the world championships. While we want them to understand the benefit of winning, equally important are the values surrounding friendship, camaraderie and sportsmanship … all those elements that the truly outstanding players of our time have shown us.”
NSW Rugby League chief executive Dave Trodden and General Manager Barrie-Jon Mather will be among those in attendance next week. “Raelene and the board members of the Bulldogs want to take more of an active role … and that is a great thing,” said Mr Mather. “At the end of the day, most kids play footy because they want to be a bulldog, or a panther or an eel … senior clubs have a major part to play in finding solutions to the issue.”
Panthers General Manager Phil Gould, meanwhile, was so determined to stamp out toxic touchline behaviour this season, he hatched a plan to introduce security guards across the entire Penrith District Rugby League.
The system has proved successful and when Ms Castle heads to next week’s summit she will flag her support for the initiative to be broadened.
“I think it is sad to think we are approaching that time but the initiative does introduce a neutral individual who is experienced in dealing with and defusing difficult behaviour,” she said.
“This is a really big issue and rugby league needs to do all it can to ensure it puts education programs and safer measures in place around grounds as well as manage and monitor games to ensure that any inappropriate behaviour is stamped out.”
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