Abuse of referees by fans is an issue that hits home for Comox Valley Minor Hockey Association president Win Hunter.
“I take this abuse issue very seriously because my two grandsons both withdrew as referees (both had been reffing for a couple of years) because of abuse from coaches and fans,” Hunter said.
He notes there are 17 minor hockey associations on Vancouver Island, and all 17 support Vancouver Island Amateur Hockey Association president Jim Humphrey’s Spectator Free Weekend idea.
“(Fan abuse of on-ice officials) has become a very serious problem up and down the Island. Not any one association, it’s many of them,” Hunter said. “The problem is the loss of referees. We’re losing a couple a hundred referees every year (across the Island) New ones are signing on, but it’s trending downwards. That’s a serious threat.”
Hunter cites a recent incident at a local arena as an example of the problem. “I heard a fan swearing at a young referee down on the ice. He was told to calm down. He swore and said ‘Shut up. This is hockey and this is what we do.’
“He was then told if he didn’t calm down we would stop the game until he left, which is what we do if it comes to that. We stopped the game and the people around him started saying, ‘Hey you’re ruining the game. Leave.’ So he left. He did the walk of shame and walked out because he acted like a fool,” Hunter said.
“It does happen here. We do have a problem. It’s not every game. Competitive hockey is probably the worst, but we do have it in recreational hockey too. I’ve seen it happen it Atom hockey where they’re eight and nine years old. It’s crazy.
“If you can imagine a 50-, 60- or 70-year-old man or woman sitting in the stands screaming obscenities at a 14- or 15-year-old child, you’ve got the picture of what we’re dealing with. It is contemptible,” Hunter said.
He added the CVMHA has zero tolerance for fan abuse of officials. “I’ve struck a subcommittee to bring recommendations forward to the board of directors to address the issue and do what we can to try and eliminate abuse of officials. I’m anticipating some recommendations to come forward at the next meeting in February.
“We’ve already improved the signage, we have talked about perhaps having an announcement at the beginning of every game. We want our parents that go and simply enjoy the game and to feel empowered to tell somebody to calm down and be quiet when they start abusing officials.”
Hunter said it is a minority that ruins things for the majority who go to the rink to enjoy the game and watch their child play. “It’s maybe one per cent, but it only takes one or two people to be very disruptive in the stands and disrupt the game.”
He added, “A fan-free weekend will certainly get people’s attention and make them think about it. A lot of people will be saying, ‘I go to the games and don’t say anything, why am I being punished?’ The point is to get your attention, and then perhaps you’ll help us (by being proactive and) feel empowered to stop the abusers.”
Hunter’s statement on fan abuse of officials can be read on the minor hockey website cvmha.goalline.ca