Sean Hurson: 'We're human and we have families'
By John Harrington
2020 All-Ireland SFC Final referee, Sean Hurson, says people need to start seeing the person behind the whistle if a culture of respect for referees is to become embedded in Gaelic games.
Speaking at the launch of national Respect the Referee Day which takes place this weekend, Hurson voiced his concern at the way many people find it easy to alienate referees.
“I think it’s a case of trying to establish what the role of the referee is within the association but also at grass roots level so we can turn around and be a valued member and contribute to what is a fantastic sport but also that we are part of it and we are volunteers,” he said.
“We’re human and we have families. People forget that and see the man in the black jersey as someone who has nothing to do with the association. So it’s about ‘we all belong’ and that’s what our perspective is. We want everyone to reset and evaluate what the role of the referee is within the association.
“This last number of weeks or months there has been a high number of incidents and while the committee has been doing work in the background, it has become of national interest that this is not good enough and now is the time to change it and for some supporters to re-focus on how they conduct themselves at games and coaches as well.
“I think today’s initiative actually allows people to say, ‘maybe I need to change the way I do things'. Maybe instead of being part of an association where we all belong, we are actually alienating elements within the association. At the moment referees are the focus and it gets forgotten that referees are all club people.
“I’m heavily involved with my own club. I’m on the committee and a coach. We all are volunteers because we enjoy it and we love it.”
Rather than respect referees, Hurson believes many coaches and players go out of their way to undermine them during matches in the hope that doing so will result in their team benefitting from favourable decisions.
“I think when you’re starting out refereeing, everybody’s trying to find a weakness and they’re trying to gain a benefit to their team so coaches and players are focusing on what they can get away with,” he says.
“The culture is there: how can we get better at beating the opposition? Sometimes they reflect on weaknesses or perceived weaknesses of the referee and unfortunately that’s what’s happening with our coaches.
“They’re focusing on the referee’s performance rather than on their own players and I would see from reading articles that lack of knowledge of the rules is there, which is why coaches don’t always understand why decisions are made.”
“It’s ‘win at all costs’ regardless of who they abuse at times or insult or whatever."
Hurson believes that referees come under most pressure in this way at club level when they don't have the same level of support the they do in the inter-county game.
"When we are refereeing an intercounty championship match we know we are going to have a stand-by referee, a linesman, four umpires, a fourth official so we’ve eight officials there. When you rock up to a Division three club game, you’re on your own in a lot of cases, especially at juvenile level.
“Therefore you’re very isolated and you don’t have the support of your side-lines and perhaps, simple thing, you might have six parents looking after a team and all they’re thinking about is winning and they will push all the boundaries so they can win and unfortunately when it’s a line ball, we’ve all seen in clubs that the direction tends to be one way.
“We as referees are compromised right away when we try to do something right – a simple line ball that goes out and you have a linesman from the home club who decides to go one way and we as referees adjudicate it to go the other way and already there’s confrontation and the abuse may start and it may antagonise some of the opposing players and that’s where it starts.
“Respect for all decisions – and you’re not going to get them all right – and I think everybody could take a reset.”