THE increase in unsavoury incidents involving the abuse of match officials and unacceptable touchline behaviour across the rugby union spectrum has pressed Hampshire Rugby Football Union into barking out a stern warning.

County officials have been concerned by the number of players being sent off in youth rugby, with over half of those dismissed simply for being abusive.

And with the support of the Hampshire Referees Society, who are enforcing a zero-tolerance stance, and the county disciplinary committee, the men in charge are looking to stamp out this problem in its infancy.

Hampshire Rugby Football Union executive director and president Jed Stone, pictured above, fired out the warning in a statement released this week, which has urged clubs to control their young players now, otherwise it could descend into an even worse situation than now.

"Rugby is in very serious danger if our young players are not taught, instructed and coached in the ethos and traditions of the game," he said. "If that is old-fashioned, so be it but we have no wish to see rugby mirror the rest of society.

"We are at the top of a very slippery slope so if we do not educate our youngsters and put a stop to this abusive behaviour, then they may well carry it over into the adult game."

Stone is urging clubs to take a tougher stance against the unruly few, who are not aided by issues on the touchline with over-exuberant parenting, otherwise there could be stiff penalties which, in cases already under the scrutiny of the RFU, could see junior sections suspended or even closed.

"In many of our clubs, I am pleased this is not a problem," he continued. "However, I am asking all clubs to conduct self-examination and to do their best to make sure there is no further escalation."

It is not just in the junior game that the warning is extended but through to the senior ranks as well, with records showing more abuse offences in the past five months than there were in the previous five years in rugby.

And it is to the amateur and volunteer referees and officials where most of this is being directed and Hampshire want to take firm steps to prevent this in the future, especially as refereeing numbers continue to dwindle in the light of such problems.

"We are hugely dependent on the individual amateur volunteer referees who give up their time to enable others to enjoy their recreation. They too wish to enjoy their Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning.

"However, if there is a continuation of the current level of abuse, we will soon find ourselves with very few willing to take the whistle.

"We have serious difficulties finding qualified referees for youth rugby on a Sunday and the reason for that is they don't want to subject themselves to touchline abuse from parents."

Stone is requesting that clubs, and particularly club chairmen, request their supporters, players and coaches understand the need to eradicate bad language and bad behaviour and swiftly.

"All club officers should be aware that we expect the home club to take responsibility for controlling spectators. I know it is easier said than done, but I don't expect the referee to ignore it and anyone who gets out of hand can expect to be subjected to disciplinary procedures.

"The game is in our hands and we must be able to pass it on to our successors in a healthy state."