LONDON (Reuters) - Fans and coaches have been told to stay quiet and not even clap at youth rugby games in the English county of Yorkshire this Sunday because of the increasing abuse of officials.
The behaviour of rugby crowds has long been viewed favourably when compared to those at football matches, with supporters generally staying silent when a kicker is taking a conversion or penalty.
However, referees in Yorkshire youth leagues have complained at their every decision being questioned from the sidelines in recent months and England's Rugby Football Union has backed the county union's new initiative.
"We are losing referees, and finding it harder to recruit new referees, because of this," said Yorkshire RFU's Dawn Rathmell in a letter sent to clubs, adding it was not just the referees who were feeling harassed.
"Some coaches, parents, and spectators are constantly shouting at their players. Screaming "pass" or "tackle" at players simply turns you in to a PlayStation coach. We want the players to be the decision makers.
"Junior players who leave the game have highlighted this pitch-side pressure as a reason for giving up."
Similar initiatives have been used in youth football leagues in England, with varying degrees of success.
The latest proposal, backed by former British and Irish Lions coach and Yorkshire-born Ian McGeechan, has been dubbed "Silent Sundays" and will continue on February 1.
England hosts the senior World Cup in September and October with Yorkshire's biggest city Leeds hosting two pool games.
(Writing by Mark Meadows; editing by Martyn Herman)