Violent images of a junior rugby league match on the front page of a Sydney newspaper have put renewed focus on behaviour at junior sporting events.
Sunday's Sun-Herald carried a confronting front-page photograph of a junior Western City Tigers player poised with his boot above the head of a felled Penrith Waratahs opponent, taken during a brawl involving parents and spectators at a recent semi-final.
The article was accompanied by images of bloodied parents.
General manager of the South Coast Group 7 rugby league competition Jim McAuliffe said crowd behaviour could be an issue everywhere when not policed thoroughly.
"It is a very difficult process but one we have been focused on for a long time now," Mr McAuliffe said.
"We have been very diligent in putting measures in place through the league and through the clubs ... on an issue like this you can't afford to take the foot off the pedal."
Rugby league officials from western Sydney said the incident portrayed in the paper was part of a growing trend of anti-social behaviour at club sporting events and Mr McAuliffe agreed.
"I think the potential has always been there, but I would say there is a greater prevalence these days," he said.
"I don't know why, but in the last few years we have had more people up to face the league for poor behaviour, including coaches and trainers, and that increase is mainly in the junior league.
"We have about 900 senior players and 2700 juniors so obviously there are a lot more junior games played ... but this is an area where we are continually challenged and an area where we can't afford to relax."
The neighbouring Illawarra District Rugby League has 800 senior players and 3000 juniors. Administrator Julie Nicoll said the standard of behaviour on the sideline had slumped in recent years and had been of particular concern for Illawarra officials this season.
"I don't find it is the kids who have the problem, it is adult behaviour that is the problem," Ms Nicoll said.
"As a general rule the kids are very well drilled in the Safe Play and Tough Love policies and that message is getting through.
"There will always be some issues on the field, but we need the parental base to step back and remember where they are.
"We don't have the issue of physical violence here like other areas may have, but there are a lot more unruly comments coming from the sideline."
Ms Nicoll said part of the issue was parents and spectators not understanding the differences in rules between the NRL and junior grassroots competitions.
"They see things on television and think it applies to a junior game, which is not always the case," Ms Nicoll she said.
"They then take it out on the referee and often these referees are 14-year-old kids not equipped to cop that kind of abuse and they shouldn't have to.
"The bad behaviour on the sidelines then has major consequences for our volunteers."