Hawke's Bay Netball staff and volunteers have been subjected to abuse from would-be spectators barred from games under Covid-19 level 2 restrictions.
The 100-person limit on public gatherings meant club and school matches had to be played across nine different zones in Napier, Hastings, Wairoa and Central Hawke's Bay, each with their own entrances, exits and toilet facilities.
That meant Hawke's Bay Netball implemented a "no spectators" rule, which general manager Tina Arlidge said was always going to be difficult to manage given the passion of the netball community for the game.
However, she never expected the level of abuse received, including constant aggressive and abusive behaviour, spectators refusing to leave - forcing games to be stopped, and what looked like key scratches being left on a Hawke's Bay Netball car.
"Staff members have been driven at, mud thrown at cars, and the same verbal and physical threats," said Arlidge.
"It appears we are simply being criticised for implementing and adhering to the rules with no exceptions or shortcuts."
She said the abuse was generally coming from people they didn't know rather than the familiar netball community, with most of the issues arising at secondary school matches.
"Where the anger is coming from, they're just passionate about their children," Arlidge said.
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"I did feel for a lot of Year 13s at secondary school, Saturday just gone it was their last game for their school."
Arlidge said Hawke's Bay Netball is really looking forward to hosting spectators this week under Covid alert level 1.
"We of course want spectators to be there as well, it's not like these are our rules.
"I guess the good thing is the passion for sport is huge."
She said it would have been hard to continue with competitions if the toxic behaviour had continued, and if the alert level shifts upwards in future, they might have to abandon competitions, solely based on that abuse.
Arlidge added that she had been hearing similar stories from netball centres around the country in recent weeks.