Match Official Support Standards - Zero Tolerance

Zero Tolerance 

More than 50 per cent of Northern NSW Football premier competitions youth match officials stopped refereeing in the last 12 months. At least 30 of those quit mid-season specifically because of the abuse they received while refereeing. 

Enough is enough.

We are fully committed to changing the culture towards refereeing in Northern NSW Football competitions. This will mean a whole of game approach to changing behaviours, attitudes and actions of players, coaches and spectators.

In 2024, through the Match Official Support Standards - Zero Tolerance, Northern NSW Football will introduce measures targeted at stamping out abuse and creating a safer, supportive and welcoming environment for match officials in our competitions. These initiatives will be part of a three-pillar strategy to implement Zero Tolerance:

  1. Clear messaging for everyone in the game
  2. Tangible support on match days for match officials
  3. Tougher sanctions - imposed more often and widely communicated 

Clear Messaging for Everyone in the Game

A clear and consistent message of Zero Tolerance will be communicated through our competitions to ensure everyone participating in, or attending, our matches are aware of the expectations and consequences for match official abuse.

  1. Zero Tolerance banners at every ground

All premier clubs will be required to display a five-metre banner which will carry Zero Tolerance messaging.

2.    Mandatory meeting of club leaders

All premier club first grade coaches, captains and technical directors will be required to attend a meeting with the NNSWF Referees team relating to new on field measures to combat match official abuse. This information will also be made available as a video for all participants.

3.    Youth match official armbands

All match officials under the age of 18 will wear a bright armband to remind players, officials and spectators that they are a child and, as such, are protected by Football Australia's Safeguarding Policy under the Member Protection Framework. 

4.   Green shirt reminders 

All clubs will be sent a reminder of the purpose of the green shirt program, with further communication to all registered players and coaches in our competitions.

5.   Social media campaign

A robust social media campaign will reinforce the message of Zero Tolerance towards abuse of our match officials.

Tangible Support for Match Officials 

Northern NSW Football will provide significantly more support when and where match officials need it, including practical directives on how to deal with issues and increased presence and welfare support on weekends.

  1. Specific directives on dealing with abuse

Northern NSW Football will provide specific directives to premier competitions match officials from NPL first grade through to youth grades and JDL on what constitutes match official abuse. Match officials will be educated on what constitutes abuse and directed to implement consistent sanctions across all NNSWF premier competitions. These standards will be widely communicated to players and coaches before any matches are played in 2024. 

 2.   Explore temporary dismissals for dissent 

The potential trial introduction of temporary dismissals in PYL Boys and PYL Girls cup competitions will see any player shown a yellow card for dissent temporarily dismissed from the field for 10 minutes, with no ability to replace the player.

 3.   Increased presence at matches 

A Northern NSW Football employed Match Commissioner and Support Officer will attend more than 100 matchdays throughout the 2024 season. This person will ensure that matchday standards are being upheld, support club duty officers and provide an independent view on any potential incidents.

 4.   Mandated Referee Support Officer 

All clubs will be required to provide a Referee Support Officer for premier competitions matches on top of the current Duty Officer requirement. The Referee Support Officer will be clearly marked in a specific vest, supplied by NNSWF, and must remain inside the fence for the duration of the match, and escort the match officials to and from the pitch.

 5.   Referee Wellbeing and Support Officer 

A new position of Referee Wellbeing and Support Officer has been created to provide immediate and ongoing support to match officials. This role will specifically work on weekends and, while also assisting with weekend appointments issues, will be there to support referees and be a presence at matches. They will also follow up with all referees involved in match official abuse incidents to provide further welfare support.

 6.   Explore reporting matchday experience

Referees will have an easily accessible online form to report their experiences from match day. While major incidents have generally been reported, this form will encourage referees to report more often on good, bad and other experiences. Teams, venues or people will be able to be identified allowing NNSWF to deal with issues sooner. 

Tougher Sanctions

Zero Tolerance means exactly that. Tougher sanctions, which will be widely communicated, will be a key deterrent initially but will serve to make an example of those who continue to engage in match official abuse in 2024.

  1. Points deductions for match official abuse 
  • Any first instance of match official abuse within a team will see that team given a three-point deduction which will be suspended until the end of the calendar year.
  • Any second offence of match official abuse in that same team will see a three-point deduction for that offence, plus the enacting of the suspended three-point deduction from the first offence, for a total of six points for a second offence.
  • Any third offence within the team will incur a further three-point deduction and the club will be required to attend a disciplinary hearing regarding further sanctions.

2.   Significantly increased sanctions

  • The minimum sanction for any players or team officials for offensive language or gestures against a match official will be increased from four matches (mandatory automatic + three) to six matches (mandatory automatic + five)
  • The minimum sanction for any players or team officials for repeated use of offensive language or gestures (actions) against a match official will be increased from five matches (mandatory automatic + four) to eight matches (mandatory automatic + seven)
  • All other prescribed match official abuse sanctions will also be increased beyond 2023 levels
  • There has been specific and increased financial penalties for match official abuse incidents  

 3.   Minimum time suspensions for match official abuse against minors

Any non-playing person aged 18 or over found guilty of match official abuse towards a minor will be suspended from all football for a minimum period of 12 months. This suspension will prevent any adult guilty of match official abuse towards a minor attending as a player, coach or spectator.

 4.   Reduced tolerance for coach and team officials behaviour 

Yellow cards shown to coaches are for incidents in which they are in full control, unlike players in match situations. As such the accumulation of yellow cards for coaches that will lead to a one-match suspension will be reduced from three to two.

 5.   Minimum mandatory suspensions for spectators in relation to match official abuse

Any spectator found guilty of match official abuse will be banned from attending any football under Northern NSW Football's jurisdiction for a minimum of 30 days.

 6.   Match officials advised of disciplinary outcomes

All match officials will be formally advised of outcomes and sanctions issued in relation to match official abuse.

 7.   Publication of suspensions on Northern NSW Football website

All player, coach and spectator suspensions for Northern NSW Football competitions will be publicly available through the NNSWF website to ensure accountability and transparency. Click here to view sanctions.

While a number of these initiatives will have an immediate impact on the matchday experience for our match officials, this policy aims to drive genuinely long-term cultural change on the pitch, on the sidelines and online, to create an atmosphere where all clubs, along with Northern NSW Football, have a Zero Tolerance approach to abuse against our match officials.