'Big boy' sideline abuse of rugby league junior prompts international reaction
A junior rugby league player who was laughed at and abused by parents on the sidelines has received global support.
The 10-year-old boy, who plays for the Manurewa Marlins in south Auckland, was criticised by parents of his own team-mates who called him “big boy” during Saturday’s match, his mother Rochelle Mara said.
Mara hit out at the comments in a Facebook post that has had more than 133,000 likes and 16,000 comments.
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She said messages of support have come from all over the world, including All Black Liam Messam, dancer Parris Goebel and rugby clubs from Samoa, Japan, Singapore and Canada.
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Mara said she was upset by the comments about her son’s weight but had been overwhelmed by the positive messages she has since received.
She said it was the second time this year that parents had made comments about her son’s size.
On Saturday she overheard a mother from the same team saying “who’s that big boy, and why did they let him on the team? He’s slowing everyone down”.
“I turned to her and said, ‘sorry who is it you’re talking about?’. She said number eight and I said, ‘that’s my son’. She was taken aback. She didn’t say sorry I think she was just shocked. I said if you’re not going to support our boys you probably shouldn’t be here. And she just walked to the other side.”
Manurewa junior rugby liaison co-ordinator Eve Otuafi said the club was looking into the incident and had spoken to those involved.
“We’re actually dealing with it now,” she said.
“We have apologised for what’s been said – we told (Mara) to continue to be the awesome mum that she is. We tell her just ignore those parents, support her baby and just be proud.”
Otuafi said she met with the parent who made the comments and told her, “we don’t need that negativity in the kids’ games”.
However she said it was difficult to take the matter any further.
“We can’t do much because it’s parents you know. They can speak freely you know. We can tell them look you can’t say this, but at the end of the day this parents going to go off and do this anyway.”
In the Facebook post Mara addressed the parent directly by saying: “can I just remind you, (my son) is out there training with his TEAM twice a week, he turns up every weekend to play alongside his TEAM, the same team your kid plays for!
“(He) is out there on that field supporting your son in the game just as I’m out on that sideline supporting them – your son included! I’m all for having your own opinions and freedom of speech but when you use this right to talk sh*t about my son please don’t expect me to stand there and take it.
“Be glad he didn’t hear it himself. For a kid whose never played rugby prior to 4 weeks ago, he’s doing a damn good job and I tell him this every week. He does not need to hear your negativity.
“He, nor any of the other boys/girls, need to hear you talking down about them, so please – for the love of Beyonce – stand there on that sideline along with the rest of us parents and support OUR boys and girls! ALL OF THEM. Win or lose. It’s a game. They’re all out there playing the best they can. Number 8 included.”
Mara said she was inspired to write about it on behalf of all junior players who dealt with criticism.
“I was posting it for every other kid who goes out there and gives it a go, no matter what their size. I’ve heard stories of so many kids being discriminated against for their size and their colour.
“I just want other parents and supporters on the sidelines to be aware that they might think they’re talking amongst themselves but our kids do hear these things. And it knocks back their confidence.
“Everyone’s entitled to say what they want to say, but they should do it somewhere else, do it at home or something, not in front of our kids.”
Otuafi said there had been incidents in the past where overweight children were criticised and verbally abused by parents.
She said the issue of sideline behaviour was not unique to Manurewa: “it happens everywhere”.
“We get a lot of parents who look down on kids. It’s just the big kids that’s being picked on. They (the parents) are very competitive, they want the fast kids on their team, they don’t want the big kids.”
She said she hoped the problem would be stamped out in future games.
“Most of the times our teams are quite good – it’s just the odd one that comes in and goes off like that. It’s sad.
“We don’t accept that kind of behaviour. We teach our coaches and parents and managers that kids are there to have fun.”
The taunting occurred on the same day the Manurewa Marlins had Warriors star Shaun Johnson as their waterboy for the junior matches.
A government-backed $300,000 pilot project known as Good Sports was launched last year to tackle unruly sideline behaviour.
The project, run through charitable trust Aktive Auckland, includes courses and workshops to promote a more supportive atmosphere at junior sports and address issues associated with violence and abuse.
It followed concerns that youngsters were getting abused on the sports field or facing too much pressure to succeed.
Ninety per cent of people surveyed in a 2015 Fairfax Media poll said sideline behaviour at junior sports was a problem and 86 per cent wanted more done to control unruly parents and spectators.