Burger King and Wellington Rugby blow whistle on sideline abuse

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Wellington loose forward Victor Vito has gone undercover as a referee to kick start a campaign aimed at blowing the whistle on negative and abusive sideline behaviour at junior rugby matches.

The Positive Sidelines Initiative is a joint venture between Wellington Rugby and Burger King which will see a series of campaigns launched under the slogan Support Our Teams But Keep It Clean.

This weekend all Wellington junior club teams will be issued with a supporter's scorecard whereby an appointed sideline ambassador will rank the conduct of the opposing team's spectators out of 10.

Categories include attitude toward the referee, loud and positive cheering and overall atmosphere with prizes at the end of the season for teams with the highest overall score.

To help highlight the issue of negative sideline behaviour Vito and his Wellington teammates Reg Goodes, Jason Woodward and Jeffery Toomaga-Allen were transformed by a make-up and prosthetics expert so they could go undercover at a junior rugby match.

At fulltime the players from the Petone and Avalon under 13s teams were thrilled to discover their apparently middle-aged and slightly overweight referee was in fact 33-test All Black Vito.

And some of the supporters were a tad embarrassed when he spoke to them about his experience at fulltime.

"Rugby to me is about friends, family, competitiveness, but positivity first and foremost and about having good healthy competition with your mates," Vito said. "I've witnessed negative sideline behaviour in the past and it's ugly. The kids are out there just trying to have fun and trying their best. It's not the be all and end all."

Vito isn't the only high profile referee lending his weight to the campaign.

English referee Wayne Barnes knows a thing or two about copping abuse from the stands and jumped at the opportunity to add his voice to The Positive Sidelines Initiative.

"I think we all sit in the stand and give some advice. We are all passionate about our team and wantthem to win, but it's about doing it with a bit of respect especially when kids are involved.

"We want them to understand some of the things that make our game truly unique and respect isreally important. Sportsmanship, enjoyment, but respect between the players, thanking theopposition and coaches respecting the players, not screaming at them. They're small blacks, not AllBlacks."

Burger King marketing manager James Woodbridge hoped raising awareness in Wellington juniorrugby would spread the message to parents and supporters in all sports across New Zealand.

"When you are looking at young kids they just need positive encouragement. Not every kid will growup to be an All Black, but they want to get out there and enjoy the game.

"From a lifestyle point of view that's important. Once they leave school we want them to keeptaking part in sport and we don't want to put them off early with negative sideline behaviour.

"The most important part is that we connect with the parents and supporters on the sidelines. Burger King want to make a positive difference in the community and we see sport and rugby as agreat way to do that."

Wellington Rugby Union head of community rugby Will Caccia-Birch said the aim was not only toimprove sideline behaviour, but also to promote positive role models.

"We are all responsible for setting a good example and helping to provide a positive environment forchildren to enjoy the game they love."

Too often parents, family members and friends are spoiling the enjoyment of the very kids theyhave come along to support. We want everybody involved whether its players, parents, supportersor referees to leave our rugby fields with a positive experience 100 per cent of the time."