Belfast Telegraph

Sunday Life

Homophobic abuse of ref at game in Northern Ireland probed by police

The referee was subjected to homophobic abuse
The referee was subjected to homophobic abuse

By STEPHEN LOONEY

AN Irish League referee feels he has been “massively let down” by the Irish Football Association after claiming he was the target of homophobic abuse while officiating in a friendly match earlier this year.

The PSNI confirmed to Sunday Life Sport it has launched an investigation into the incident and is treating it as a “hate crime”.

But the referee has been left fuming that the Irish FA disciplinary committee initially dismissed his case when it was brought to their attention.

The alleged homophobic slur took place during a pre-season friendly game in July when one participating player approached the referee and allegedly directed a comment towards him.

In order to respect the identity and privacy of the official involved, Sunday Life Sport has kept certain details of this incident confidential.

But we can confirm the game did not involve two top-flight teams, there were no assistant referees for the friendly, only the referee officiating, which is normal practice over the close season.

The whistler included the incident in his official match report, which went to the Irish FA and subsequently to the disciplinary committee for a proposed hearing.

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Sunday Life Sport has learned that at the hearing, the player in question was represented by a barrister and was also accompanied by his manager and club secretary.

He refused to comment on the case under instruction and the IFA’s disciplinary committee dismissed the sensitive matter on the grounds that “the evidence did not meet the threshold for action”.

The official has been left upset by the decision but insists he will not let it prevent him officiating at games in the future.

“I feel massively let down”, the referee told Sunday Life.

“I did not feel I was backed up by the association and it has left me wondering if I can be assured of support in the future.

“It affected me badly, but I have to fight on.”

This decision has caused dismay within the refereeing community, who feel that its authority and integrity has been undermined.

The club involved apologised to the referee at the time and Sunday Life Sport understands the player tried to reach out to the referee to apologise but was unable to get contact details.

When Sunday Life asked the IFA if they could confirm the case was thrown out by their disciplinary committee on the grounds of insufficient evidence, a spokesperson for the association said: “As investigations are not yet concluded in this matter, it would be inappropriate for the Irish Football Association to provide a comment at this stage.”

The PSNI was asked to look into the issue and has now opened a formal investigation.

The PSNI told Sunday Life: “Police received a report of an attempted assault on the 9th August. This is being treated as a hate crime and enquiries are ongoing.”

An Irish FA insider, with knowledge of the case, feels the disciplinary committee may want to review their findings.

He said: “The refereeing community looks to the parent body for support but in this case it wasn’t forthcoming and this could have serious repercussions further down the line.”

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