A social Auckland football league is pledging to dish out bans and fines for threatening behaviour towards referees.
The Auckland Sunday Football Association has warned players after a ref stepped down after being threatened on-field for the third time this season.
A former player also spoke to the Herald about a recent game that was abandoned when it disintegrated into a mass brawl.
The association said it will not stand for the behaviour and it has already banned an offending player for two years.
In a post on its Facebook page, the organisation announced the departure of a long-standing referee and said threatening behaviour on the field had to stop.
"Players and teams can expect monetary fines, points deductions and extended bans for behaviour of this type. Previous incidents of this nature will be revisited and retrospective punishments may be applied. If anyone thinks this type of behaviour is acceptable you are playing in the wrong competition.
The post said the banned player and spat in a ref's face.
'We were shocked and disappointed'
Competitions manager Trevor Brook said the association is investigating one report of abuse but two others were not reported.
"From what we have been told, it was threatening behaviour - no violent action occurred. Needless to say we were shocked and disappointed that an individual thought it acceptable to behave in this manner, as were his teammates," he said.
Although abusive behaviour was "extremely infrequent" the association had zero tolerance towards violence and disrespect.
"There is no place in our, and in any sport, for individuals who think the playing field and surrounds is their own personal domain where they are free to behave as they wish.
"We will not permit the competition to be denigrated by the actions of a very small number of miscreant individuals."
He said punishments are considered on a case by case basis.
Auckland Football Federation chief executive Steven Upfold said he was aware of referee abuse in the social competition this season.
"Referee abuse is something AFF take extremely seriously and we would fully support any sanctions the ASFA determine appropriate," he said.
Huge brawl sparks walk outs
A former football player, who played in the league on and off for the past five seasons, told the Herald he quit the sport after a game erupted into a "full-on brawl" this year.
The player, who wished to remain anonymous, said there was no official referee for the game, so a member of the opposition team was refereeing.
"All of a sudden a full-on brawl broke out. There were people lying on the floor, being kicked in the head. I just left."
The most bizarre thing came at the end of the brawl, he said.
"The two captains came together and said we can't tell the association about this, and then decided the outcome of the game with a coin flick. That is meant to be social football."
Over the past five years there had always been some aggression, but this year was particularly bad, he said.
"A lot of the players will bring their kids along to watch the games. It becomes taught behaviour, if you see your dad doing something like that.
"Another person I know had someone threaten to kill them during a game. It is just not worth it," he said.
The contrast of two leagues
A player involved in the New Zealand Christian Football Association (NZCFA) Saturday league said the contrast between the leagues could not be stronger.
In the Saturday league, players received a straight red card for offences like swearing, which included a fine and a further one-match ban, the player said.
Association chairman Andrew Scarr said punishments for the individuals is needed but responsibility falls on team management and captains to ensure players are made well aware of what is acceptable and what isn't.
"NZCFA has zero tolerance for violence and abuse on and off the pitch and these incidences will incur instant red cards and further follow up. We uphold a league that is open to everyone from all walks of life and one that is safe and inclusive," he said.
'We want everyone to play with enjoyment'
Sport New Zealand chief executive Peter Miskimmin it was important that at everyone involved in sport; irrespective of whether a player, coach, or referee, enjoyed themselves.
"The old thing about sport is that it evokes passion, people love it and they are passionate about it, but the flip side of passion can be that people get carried away and make ill informed or irresponsible decisions towards referees or other players.
"That takes away the enjoyment for other people and that in no way can be condoned."
Miskimmin said s number of organisations were working to emphasise the positives of sports and ensure that people come along to enjoy it.
Auckland Sport & Recreation (Aktive) CEO Sarah Sandley said they were disappointed and concerned to hear of abuse.
"Poor sideline behaviour is damaging for everyone – players, coaches, referees, and spectators. What's more, this type of behaviour has a significant negative effect on children and their sporting experience."