Cops keep an eye out at junior rugby match

Police have taken to the sidelines of junior rugby for the first time in Auckland today in a bid to tackle negative sideline behaviour.

"Operation Footy Cops" was revealed by the Herald last month - an initiative to see a community policing team present at weekend matches.

An email from community constable John To'ua-Kalava to a neighbourhood watch group said he was working on the initiative having personally witnessed negative sideline behaviour supporting family sport while off-duty.

"It's just not fair for the development of our children or the future of our national game," To'ua-Kalava wrote in the email.

Today at Cox's Bay Park, To'ua-Kalava fronted a small group of police working a free barbecue from a new mobile police unit.

To'ua-Kalava said the police presence was an effort intended to spread goodwill among teams and supporters.

"We're basically here to fly our flag really, we're a preventative team, a community team," he said.

"We've got this new police unit that's been given to the Auckland area and we've got to get it out there. We've got to get our messages out there and it has to be positive."

Auckland Rugby has also got on board with the concept which will be trialled today and next Saturday before a review to see if will be rolled out long-term.

"We've made a partnership with Auckland Rugby Union, just encouraging positive relations. Sport is a positive thing for our young people and our young people are the future of not only the game, but our communities and our country."

The response to the police idea was positive from parents of young players at Cox's Bay Park.

Rochelle Hewson, a junior rugby committee member for Ponsonby Rugby Club, welcomed the pilot programme.

"I think it's a great idea. As a club and parents we're trying to encourage it and it starts with what we do on the sidelines," Hewson said.

It's about parents taking a breath, understanding it's not the World Cup final and getting some perspective.

"They're just trying to integrate it into part of the community, I think they're doing a good job."

Students from St Paul's College helped cook the free barbecue, with food donated by the Mad Butcher.

Chief of College Sport in Auckland, Dave Currie, also previously backed the police operation, telling the Herald: "You can't see any downsides to it and if it's positive, then why wouldn't you do it?

"The real challenge is around volunteers and officials, you want the refereeing to be perfect but sometimes there's mistakes. But without them, sport won't survive. It's about parents taking a breath, understanding it's not the World Cup final and getting some perspective."

In an interview with Newstalk ZB last month, head of community rugby Will Caccia-Birch said Wellington Rugby's problem with referee abuse was getting worse.

"On the weekend just gone, we had more incidents of referee abuse than in the whole of last season," he said.

- NZ Herald

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