Church Minister cleared of assaulting referee

A church minister has been cleared of assaulting an off-duty police officer who was refereeing his son's under-10 rugby game in a disagreement over a try.

Falefiaoali'i Fa'alolo, 50, appeared for a defended hearing in Manukau District Court after allegedly grabbing Benton Ostler by the throat on May 19 last year.

Mr Ostler was in the final minutes of refereeing a game that involved both their sons in opposing under-10 teams in a Papatoetoe Rugby Club match at Kingswood Rd Reserve when the incident unfolded.

The coach of the other team had refereed the first half of the game and Mr Ostler took over in the second half, the court was told.

In the last minutes of the game, when Mr Ostler awarded a try to his son's team, Mr Fa'alolo walked on to the field and grabbed him by the neck, Mr Ostler told the court.

"The first point of contact I felt was to my throat area followed by a grabbing on the front of my jacket," he said.

Mr Ostler said he pushed Mr Fa'alolo away before being grabbed again. Mr Fa'alolo also raised an umbrella at him, "making me believe he was going to strike me with it", said Mr Ostler.

"I said f*** off ... I was angry and upset. I've been part of that club for close to 30 years, coaching, refereeing and playing and I've never experienced behaviour like that," he said.

Mr Fa'alolo told the court he was "not at all" happy with the standard of referring and went on the field to encourage his son's team.

He said he told Mr Ostler "Why don't you referee the game properly", when Mr Ostler grabbed him first.

Mr Fa'alolo denied raising his umbrella and swearing at Mr Ostler.

The scuffle was seen by about 40 people, including several children who were scared and crying, witness Kimiora Fehoko told the court.

During a police interview on the day of the altercation and in court Mr Fa'alolo apologised and said he regretted what happened.

"It was the referee making a wrong call - it made me angry. I know what I have done it is not the right thing."

The court heard that during a meeting with rugby club management two days later, Mr Fa'alolo was suspended, preventing him from watching his son's games.

Judge Brian Callaghan found the assault charge against was not proven beyond reasonable doubt and there were inconsistencies in the evidence.

"To be honest, - a year later and having listened to all the witnesses and evidence - I cannot be sure as to which version is correct."

But he was sure Mr Fa'alolo was upset.

"Regardless of the assault issue, he should not have interfered in any way and should have respected the referee's decision."

Club junior delegate Rick Steadman said managers would hold a meeting this week before reporting to the New Zealand Rugby Union.

"With the outcome of the court proceeding we'd recommend that he's suffered quite a bit over that period and he's been quite diligent with what he's done and he's always remained remorseful.

"We'd fully recommend that we lift his suspension now and let him just watch his boys and enjoy his rugby," he said.

Auckland Rugby Referees Association chairman Don Crawford said under-10 games were refereed by parents rather than appointed referees, but assaults against referees at any level were unacceptable.

"We have zero tolerance to it ... It's totally unacceptable behaviour and if we have a referee assaulted by a player or a spectator, then we pursue that either through the judicial process and/or the legal process, depending on the severity of the attack."

Mr Crawford said players who assaulted referees were dealt with harshly, including life bans for serious incidents and long suspensions for less serious incidents.

He said clubs and the Auckland Rugby Union were supportive of that.

The Herald on Sunday newspaper has launched a major campaign to support good behaviour on the sidelines of sports fields and courts, and to back the work being done in the big winter sports codes - rugby, league, netball, football, hockey and basketball - to combat increasing numbers of "ugly" fans.

The paper has published a Sideline Code, encouraging supporters to cheer loud, cheer fair and cheer proud. Ambassadors including injured All Black Richard Kahui, Silver Ferns captain Casey Kopua, league's Manu Vatuvei, World Cup football star Ivan Vicelich and Breakers basketball captain Mika Vukona.

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