GAA must live up to its responsibilities to referees

The recent assault which took place on a referee in a Co. Roscommon Under 17 match between St. Aidan’s and St. Dominic’s at Ballyforan, leaving him with injuries that necessitated him being hospitalised, is a scandalous reflection on a sport which is greatly loved across the nation.

It is not the first time that GAA match officials have been treated in such despicable fashion - but the association should do everything in its power to ensure it's the last.

The GAA, to its credit, invests large amounts of time and energy in seeking to make its games the best they can possibly be.

This positive approach has resulted in massive investment in the sport’s stadium infrastructure at national, provincial, county and club level over the past number of decades.

Croke Park is arguably one of the finest stadiums in the world and the impressive facilities at Kingspan Breffni are a source of pride for the county.

The level of investment in player development is unprecedented while rules have been changed and the playing season altered in order to achieve further improvements at all levels, while ladies GAA has been transformed in recent years thanks to its growing popularity.

Yet it is not always appreciated that a ball or sliotar will not roll one inch at GAA grounds without the presence of referees.

This fact was forcibly demonstrated last weekend when referees in Roscommon withdrew their services for all matches in the aftermath of the assault on one of their members.

It was a courageous and necessary course of action in condemning all forms of violence, aggression and abuse towards match officials in the GAA.

It was a decision they did not take lightly and others will follow unless there is change.

Because referees have not been extended the respect and esteem they deserve over the years, a situation has been reached whereby there is an alarming shortage of officials in counties throughout the country as fewer and fewer young referees are coming forward.

This represents a significant threat to the future of the sport unless it is urgently addressed.

That’s a new reality facing the association and every grassroots member has a role to play in ensuring the role of the referee is respected and protected.

This observer is an admirer of the value placed on referees in rugby and it is such a refreshing aspect of the sport.

The GAA needs to take a leaf from the rugby book, in that regard.

It’s a culture change that must happen, led from the top down.