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Rugby refs urged to return to Coleraine after match abuse row

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Grainne Crabtree

Grainne Crabtree

Grainne Crabtree

Rugby referees were reportedly pressurised to return to Coleraine Rugby Club when they still had safety concerns following the verbal abuse of a female referee.

Grainne Crabtree suffered sexist, verbal abuse while officiating for a Kukri Ulster Rugby Championship game in March.

After the incident, Ulster referees refused to officiate at home matches involving Coleraine RFC. BBC News NI reported that a letter from the Irish Rugby Football Union's (IRFU) Ulster Branch asked referees to return to the club.

The union said it has "no further comment to make on the matter". The letter, dated June 13, was sent to the Ulster Society of Rugby Football Referees (USRFR) after Coleraine RFC received an initial sanction of a suspended £2,000 fine. It included conclusions drawn up by a sub-committee. It stated: "We unanimously feel that for the good of the game, and to ensure that no unintended precedent is created, the USRFR should withdraw its threatened sanction."

In the letter, the Ulster Branch insisted that Coleraine RFC had taken action to prevent a similar incident happening again, including issuing its members with its code of conduct.

It claimed these actions would make Coleraine RFC "one of the safest grounds in Ulster" for referees.

It outlined concerns that the referee boycott would indirectly punish other clubs who were set to play games there, and said the sub-committee was "extremely concerned" at the potential knock-on effect on completing various rugby leagues in Ireland.

The letter also warned that the USRFR could have breached its own by-laws due to the boycott.

Ulster Branch said it shared the "disgust and upset" of the USRFR over the "appalling abuse" the referee was subjected to, and its "disappointment" that those responsible have not been identified or disciplined. It included a draft letter that it recommended sending to Coleraine RFC on the USRFR's behalf, proposing an end to the boycott threat. But the USRFR refused to return to the club as it did not feel a strong enough sanction had been handed down. Referees returned to the club on October 27 after a second Ulster Branch investigation, which led to Coleraine RFC being fined £5,000.

The club issued a written apology to the referee in September.

The Ulster Branch said: "As a detailed review has been completed with the subsequent sanctions accepted by all parties, the IRFU (Ulster Branch) has no further comment to make."

Belfast Telegraph