Simon Plumb is a journalist for the Herald on Sunday

Footy cops aim to sideline abusers

Sideline supporters are welcoming a police plan to have cops on the sidelines of school and age-grade games.

Today the Weekend Herald revealed a community policing team is being lined up for junior Saturday matches in Auckland in a bid to curb violent and abusive behaviour at matches.

An email from Ponsonby Constable John To'ua-Kalava told Mt Albert neighbourhood watch groups last week "Operation Footy Cops" was on the way. According to the email, the operation would consist of community cops working a free barbecue to spread goodwill between rival fans.

The Herald hit the sidelines of Auckland sport this morning and found widespread support for having police on site.

"I really think it's a good idea. It just flares up and often the incitement is from the sideline," Brian Moorwood said, a life member of Mount Albert Rugby League and former president of the club.

"When police are out on the road, everybody slows down, so it would have the same effect here.

If there were police around it would keep people in line.

Moorwood said the issue often sees a "pack mentality" with groups of people piling when a scuffle breaks out and he has seen the situation get worse over three decades.

"What tends to happen is everybody runs in and it escalates.," he said. "It's bad comments or a kid gets a tackle that's a bit hard and his dad doesn't like it, and it all seems to stem from that.

"I saw problems 30 years ago, but certainly not to the extent that it is now."

Dion Brown, manager of Otara U15 Spartans, volunteers as a crowd ambassador at games to help control potentially negative incidents before they happen.

He said he would like to see that go further through a police presence. "We like a lot of noise on the sidelines, but it's got to be positive for the kids out there." Brown said.

"It can be a difficult environment, particularly if you've got a couple of really top sides going head-to-head, and it's a close score, you can feel the tension. As an ambassador you have to be aware of that tension and get a bit closer to the action, so to speak.

Brown said his club was well behaved but in eight years as manager, he had encountered a couple of incidents which went too far.

Ponsonby Constable To'ua-Kalava said police superiors would not allow him to discuss his initiative until a partnership agreement with local clubs has been finalised.

Eden Rugby junior club captain Paul Saggers said he had not heard from police about Operation Footy Cops but lauded the concept.

Chief of College Sport in Auckland, Dave Currie, also backed the police operation. "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."

Harm reduction manager Detective Inspector Tony Hill said sideline behaviour is taken seriously by police.

"Any offence committed on the sidelines that is brought to police attention will be investigated, as with any other offence," Hill said.

"Most sports clubs and organisations are self-motivated in promoting positive behaviour on the sidelines and police support that."

In an interview with Newstalk ZB, 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."

- NZ Herald

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