GAA referee David Gough has called on the sporting organisation to introduce “real sanctions” for anyone who does not adhere to regulations on the treatment of referees.
Speaking on RTÉ Radio’s News at One, Mr Gough, who is a senior referee at intercounty level, said that a “massive culture change” was needed and that it needed to “come from on high”.
His comments come after Roscommon GAA confirmed it has launched an investigation following an alleged assault on a referee at an underage club game in Ballyforan on Wednesday night.
Mr Gough said that while he had never personally experienced physical abuse, and did not know how he would react if it happened, he said he experiences verbal abuse at local games. He added these incidents were unwelcome and unwarranted, and homophobic on occasion.
Such abuse could have an impact on the mental health of referees, Mr Gough warned.
Abuse was very rare at intercounty championship games, that was not to say that it did not happen, but verbal abuse was difficult to detect when wearing an earpiece and there was a large crowd, he explained.
It was even more worrying that the assault on the referee in Roscommon had happened during an underage game, he said, adding it was unacceptable.
The incident has been condemned by Minister of State for Sport Jack Chambers who called for a swift investigation.
He said anyone who is found responsible for deliberately harming a match official needs to be held to account.
Mr Chambers wished the referee a speedy recovery and said a “very strong message must go out that abuse of match officials is completely unacceptable and will not be tolerated by anyone in our game”.
Roscommon GAA statement
Earlier, Roscommon GAA issued a statement on the matter, saying it “strongly condemns” behaviour which puts officials at risk.
“Roscommon GAA is aware of an incident involving a referee during an underage match in Ballyforan on Wednesday evening.
“We would like to wish the referee involved in this incident a speedy recovery. Roscommon GAA strongly condemns any behaviour that puts any of our match officials at risk,” it added.
It is understood that the match was abandoned during the second half following the alleged incident.