4:00AMWednesday Jul 22,
By Kathy Marks
While fighting between players at last week's State of Origin match in Brisbane has sparked debate about the ugly face of rugby league, Australian sports officials are considering banning parents from children's games following a spate of violence on the sidelines.
An altercation in the car park next to a football oval in western Sydney last weekend left Gary Harling, 50, in hospital with serious head injuries. Harling, whose son, Oliver, plays in an under-12s league, was allegedly attacked by three fathers from a rival team, during a brawl that involved up to 30 parents and at least two women.
In Melbourne, several games were cancelled after a fight between two under-14 players spilled off the field and led to parents punching and kicking each other before a crowd of children.
The general manager of New South Wales Rugby League, Geoff Carr, told Macquarie Radio yesterday that a spectator ban was being considered following the attack on Harling, which he called "unacceptable"."We've got to make sure that parents take responsibility for their own actions. They've got to be aware that there will be strong consequences if they don't."
However, Carr later appeared to back down, saying it would be wrong to penalise 99 per cent of well-behaved parents for the actions of a few.
Harling, whose injuries include broken ribs, fractured eye sockets, severe facial swelling and inflammation of the brain, told Sydney's Daily Telegraph he had stepped in to defuse an argument between the mother of a St Patrick's team player and several fathers supporting Blacktown City.
"The next thing I knew, I received an almighty punch across my face, then one straight after. I realised I was being punched by several people and then I blacked out."
Witnesses said the men continued to hit and kick Harling after he fell to the ground unconscious. His elder son, 16-year-old James, was also set upon when he tried to help his father.
Carr said that incidents such as the brawling at last week's State of Origin match sent the wrong message to young players. He noted that a record number of juniors had been sent off this year for misconduct. Parents' behaviour had deteriorated too, he said, with abuse of referees and other parents increasing.
Police, who have not yet charged anyone with assaulting Harling, appealed for witnesses to come forward. According to some accounts, Harling threw the first punch.
NSW Rugby League operates a Sports Rage programme which requires parents to sign a code of conduct. In theory, those who breach it are suspended. No serious injuries were suffered during the Melbourne confrontation, which is believed to have been triggered by an umpiring decision.
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