Warrington Wolves invited leading match official Robert Hicks to bring the RFL’s Enjoy the Game message to The Halliwell Jones Stadium recently, explaining in person the impact of receiving abuse on social media.
Hicks was the subject of a death threat from a Warrington supporter after Warrington’s Challenge Cup quarter final victory at Hull KR in May.
Warrington immediately launched an investigation, and the police also contacted the supporter.
But in what is thought to be a first for Rugby League, Hicks and Warrington chief executive Karl Fitzpatrick have come together to stress to the supporter in person exactly how and why his behaviour was unacceptable – and also to underline the purpose of the RFL’s Enjoy the Game campaign.
On that basis, all have agreed that a suspended banning order is sufficient punishment in this instance, with the supporter expressing his gratitude for that response – and the chance to keep supporting the Wire.
The police have also been kept informed throughout the process.
“I don’t want anyone to think I’m making light of this – the incident caused significant worry and upset to my family,” said Hicks.
“But having discussed the matter with Karl and also the police, we thought we could make a more effective point by meeting face to face with the individual concerned.
“We did that at The Halliwell Jones Stadium, and although it was a difficult experience for all of us, I think we all left the room thinking it had been a worthwhile exercise.”
Fitzpatrick added: “Robert Hicks deserves a lot of credit for responding in this way, and we were happy to play our part.
“Everybody knows that we have been a bit edgier with our own use of social media this season, with the very clear aim of changing and raising the image and profile of the club and the Super League competition.
“But that brings a responsibility to make absolutely clear that certain things remain completely unacceptable – and this was very clearly an example of that.
“We’re not the only club who has had to tackle this sort of issue this season, and I think the vast majority of supporters would concede that the levels of abuse that match officials have to receive is unfair.
“We want more people – boys and girls, men and women – to want to become match officials, and that’s only going to happen if we change the culture through the game, and make it clear that they have to be treated with respect.
“We also want The Halliwell Jones Stadium to be a safe, welcoming place for children and families, and all of our supporters have a responsibility to play their part in that.
“That’s the point of the RFL’s Enjoy the Game campaign, which Warrington and all the other Betfred Super League clubs are right behind.”