Police have bullies in sights

Eljae Pukeiti-Mara was bullied.
Eljae Pukeiti-Mara was bullied.

Police will launch their sideline "Footy Cops" campaign on the sidelines of Auckland school sports event this month.

The Weekend Herald revealed last month that police were working on the initiative, which will see police officers at school and age-grade games in a bid to clamp down on violent and abusive behaviour.

Auckland West area commander, Inspector Jacqui Whittaker confirmed this week the operation would be launched at Cox's Bay Reserve on August 20.

As well as monitoring sideline behaviour, officers would also host a sausage sizzle - and a mobile police base will also be stationed there.

Another operation would be held at Gribblehurst Park on August 27.

"We do know that, from time to time, sideline behaviour can cause concerns at some local sports games," Whittaker said.

"However the focus of this initiative is about providing a positive police presence supporting physical activity through sports.

"This is a trial, initiated in the Auckland West Area in discussions with the Auckland Rugby [Union], and is in its early stages," Whittaker said.

Footy Cops was being handled by the Ponsonby Community Policing Team.

Rochelle Mara, whose son 10-year-old son Eljae Pukeiti-Mara has been bullied over his weight while playing for Manurewa Marlins club side, backed the police project.

"It's a great idea because it will bring more support from the community.

"Just having police somewhere around, their presence will make sideline spectators more aware of what they're doing."

Mara hit the headlines in late April when she took to Facebook to discuss the hurt of watching her son being labelled "a big boy" by spectators watching his under-10 team.

Other harsh sideline critics said her son wasn't "an asset to the team".

Mara's post went viral, with more than 18,000 comments supporting Eljae who, she said, "for a kid who has never played rugby prior to 4 weeks ago, he's doing a damn good job".

All Black Liam Messam was among those who moved to defend Eljae, with an Instagram post from the Rugby World Cup winner saying "We need to be there to support our kids not tear them down #ourfuture #letkidsbekids #igotuEljae". Messam's post attracted more than 7000 likes.

Since the publicity in April, Mara says she had seen an improved attitude from supporters.

"Eljae's case has definitely brought more awareness to sideline bullying," she said.

"At weekends we have two parents from each team with orange vests working as good behaviour ambassadors and promoting respectful sideline actions," Mara said.

"A lot more parents are volunteering for that now."

Mara said that she had considered moving out of Auckland.

"I was definitely thinking of moving out of Auckland for work and because it is so expensive in the city, but the reason Eljae doesn't want to move is because he doesn't want to leave his club," she said.

"He's upset that the season's almost over, he's counting down but just doesn't want it to end."

- Herald on Sunday

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