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Is It Legal To Heckle A Referee At A Children's Sports Game?

There’s nothing wrong with being a supportive parent but overzealous mums and dads can get carried away during their kids’ sports games, especially if they deem the decision from an umpire or referee to be unfair towards their children. There are plenty of instances of parents behaving badly at kids’ sports matches but is it legal for them to heckle the refs?

Referee surrounded image from Shutterstock

Competitive sports can bring out the best and worst in people. During games, emotions from spectators and players are high which can lead to fits of rage directed against each other or, more commonly, the referee who has the onerous task of enforcing the rules of the sport they are presiding. It’s hard to please everybody and often referees have to make decisions that would upset one camp or another.

This doesn’t just happen at big sporting events. Parents at children’s sports matches have a long documented history of losing their bananas at umpires. I’ve seen parents at Brazilian Jiujitsu competitions getting into heated exchanges with referees over what they perceived to be a bad call. This type of thing happens all around the world, regardless of what kind of sport it is. In some serious cases, umpires even get physically assaulted.

But what’s the harm in a bit of heckling? First off, let’s address the more obvious actions that would land parents in hot water. If you get physical with an umpire, you could be liable to pay compensation to them under common law or under the Criminals Injuries Compensation Act.

As for verbal abuse, the content of what you say could potentially land you in legal hot water. The federal and state governments all have Australian discrimination laws in place to protect citizens from discrimination or harassment. For example the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 covers the following:

Discrimination on the basis of race, colour, sex, religion, political opinion, national extraction, social origin, age, medical record, criminal record, marital or relationship status, impairment, mental, intellectual or psychiatric disability, physical disability, nationality, sexual orientation, and trade union activity.

So if you’re hurling racist or sexist abuse to the referee, they could end up suing you for damages in court.

Having said that, the umpire isn’t impervious to legal repercussions if they don’t do their jobs properly. According to lawfirm Slater + Gordon:

In the event of a player or spectator being injured during a game, the injured party may look to sue the official if the official has contributed to the loss by not enforcing the rules, controlling the game or ensuring the playing venue is safe.

So if you’re a parent, think before you speak and act at you kid’s next sports game. “Harmless” heckling could land you in the courts and cost you dearly. The same applies to spectators at amateur sports events.

Did you just catch yourself wondering if something was legal or not? Let us know and we may be able to answer it in our next Is It Legal? feature.


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