Refs facing uptick in 'constant yelling and screaming' by irate parents in N.L., says hockey board

Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador referee in chief Ed Flood says reports of maltreatment toward hockey officials has increased in 2023.  (Shutterstock - image credit)
Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador referee in chief Ed Flood says reports of maltreatment toward hockey officials has increased in 2023. (Shutterstock - image credit)

The referee-in-chief for Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador says reported instances of abuse against officials have increased this season across the province compared to last year.

This comes on the heels of a Mount Pearl Minor Hockey Association (MPMHA) Facebook post on Sunday, calling on parents and coaches to "do better" after several instances of "inappropriate behaviour in the rink between coaches and officials and spectators and officials" in recent days and weeks.

"They've been having some difficulty with parents and coaches really giving some officials the gears," Ed Flood, referee-in-chief with Hockey N.L., told CBC News on Thursday.

"They've been dealing with constant yelling and screaming at officials of all ages. Last week, 10 days ago maybe, there was an incident where a young hockey player actually punched a referee. I think that's what really threw this one over the top."

The MPMHA told CBC News it wasn't commenting on the matter.

Flood said Mount Pearl isn't the only jurisdiction in Newfoundland and Labrador with this problem.

It's also an issue that has plagued youth sports around the world for decades.

"Our numbers of maltreatment situations have increased this year over last year," Flood said.

"It's probably the best game on the planet but it's to a point where we're losing bodies, we're losing referees. We don't need to lose referees, some areas don't have enough now. And this is a national, international situation. We've got some people across the country complaining in the same way and it's a tough spot."

Earlier in March, Hockey N.L. ushered in a new program that identifies youth officials — those under 18 years old — with green armbands as a way to thwart unnecessary abuse.

Troy Turner/CBC
Troy Turner/CBC

"The initiative is a great initiative. It's really sad that the game has gotten to a point where you have to identify young officials," said Flood.

"The culture has changed so much over the last decade or so that these kinds of things have to happen."

Flood said Hockey N.L. doesn't have the jurisdiction to remove problematic parents, coaches or players from arenas in non-Hockey N.L. events. He said minor hockey associations and arena managers need to step up in that regard if problems persist into the future.

Hockey N.L. does have a parents and coaches code of conduct in its policy manual, which if broken can lead to disciplinary action including, but not limited to, "the loss or suspension of certain or all privileges connected with Hockey N.L. including the opportunity to participate in Hockey N.L. activities."

Disciplinary action may include the removal or ban from any arena, games, practices and other team activities. In extreme cases, Hockey N.L. can ban a child from the organization's events based on their parent's behaviour, though that has never happened, according to president Jared Butler.

Flood said incidents of abuse aren't good for the people in the game or the game itself.

"I just wish people would go to the rink and let the kids play," he said.

"In today's society, mental health is such a large part of the conversation, almost every day. We don't need anything else that's going to be a detriment to the mental health of any young people on the planet."

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador