Sunday, 24 February 2013

Are we losing the respect for the Referee?

One of the most important things in rugby is respecting the referee, its always been the one thing that separates rugby from so many other sports. One of the first introductions into rugby is you never argue with the ref and call him 'sir'.
While watching football you will see players surrounding the officials trying to influence them, continuous protests from players, supporters and even coaching staff in rife in the game and unfortunately is now accepted.
In rugby only the captain and player involved in infringement are allowed to speak to the referee and generally only the captain is allowed to approach the referee and ask any questions.
In my opinion this is what makes the game of rugby so great, it teaches discipline and respect. Whether you're playing mini or top flight rugby the attitude from players should always be shown in the same context. As the professionals display this discipline it also aids the young contenders follow replicate their heroes behaviour, aspirational behaviour is educational behaviour, players must lead by example.

Sergio Parisse to his detriment has recently discovered that verbally abusing a match official certainly is not a wise move, now serving a 30 day ban after carrying out that action. A harsh lesson to learn but also a strong message to send out, this will not be tolerated in the game. Parisse has by far been the strongest player in the Italian team through the first couple of fixtures of the six nations, but now that force and leadership has been removed from the Azzuri. The strength of the punishment is demonstrated in the fact his banning period is longer than Cian Healy who was handed a three week suspension for an attempted stamp on the ankle of Dan Cole in the Ireland v England fixture. Evidence of respect the man in the middle!

Over the last few seasons refereeing decisions are starting to become more scrutinised and a referees performance is becoming as important as the teams playing the game itself. Fans now know as much about the officials as they do about the teams, their preferences on penalising scrums, playing advantages and many are even picked by supporters for favouritism or opposing a team. So why have we gone from accepting the word of the referee to questioning him and almost doubting his credentials to officiate a game, what has changed and is is it possible for it to return to the "good old days"?

The RFU appear to feel that there is an issue with this due to the action earlier this season against Richard Cockerill and Conor O'Shea for post match comments regarding the officials performances. Both have been issued a letter of warning stating they will have to curb their comments or face disciplinary actions for bringing the game into disrepute. A bold move by the RFU and for many a possible welcome step, an attempt to reinforce the respect of the referee is an attempt to draw back the original ethos of the game.

There are many points of view for contradicting the officials calls and why they are so heavily scrutinised, the list of judges is ever growing ranging from fans, players, coaches and television pundits. Many have suggested that the power of recent years has been diminished from the referee as the IRB have become so stringent with their laws, yes the laws are there to improve the game but the referees interpretation of those laws is waining. Citing committees and the TMO have become much stronger and are there to aid referees but also highlight decisions missed or errors made by the officials, to a point that the referee could become slightly isolated and gain their self a reputation for making poor decisions.

For the reversal of the argument do the referees at times do their self any favours? Recent fixtures have highlighted that some officials seem to be being influenced by the crowd. The crowds are becoming more vocal towards the officials in shouts of 'forward' or the one I personally hate 'off off off', and sadly it appears they are taking note and listening to the crowd and administering sanctions reliant on the chants.
Understandably to walk out in places such as Welford Road, Kingsholm, Adams Park etc must be a very intimidating experience, but to be a top flight referee surely you are expected to be able to ignore such pressure? If they succumb to such pressure that truly states they are not doing a professional job and this failing should be highlighted, therefore they should become fairly scrutinised and face their own sanctions? In a possible melodramatic sense if somebody is under performing in their job how long will they stay in that position?
Unfortunately we have witnessed a few decisions of late that can draw upon the argument that a refereeing reshuffle may be needed? A TMO decision handing a penalty try in which some may consider as harsh and a potential covering tackle may of come in if a trip had not occurred. An inexperienced official who unfortunately didn't seem to have a grasp on scrummaging and repeatedly penalised the team moving forward intact almost seeming quite hapless through the majority of the fixture. We also witnessed a harsh yellow for not retreating 10 at a tap and go even with no warning? Yes it is fair to say everybody has an off day but some errors seem basic fundamentals of the game yet error and judgement still go amiss.

A large concern for many comes with the youth rugby, with the game becoming more and more popular the young players look for inspiration from their elders. With general attitudes towards the referees children will learn and take this on board, and continual disregards of the officials decisions how much respect will be left by the time they hit adult rugby? An eight year old watching now in ten years time what will be the evolutional passage? I've noticed of late how the feeding of scrums has filtered down from the professional game down into junior rugby, so showing that youth mimics their idols. If the future of rugby players or supporters see that the Referee is not respected by likewise players or supporters could we eventually lose the one thing that still makes rugby the gentleman's sport we know and love?


  1. Ooo, was with you right until the examples you handed out in the penultimate para:

    I agree, that sometimes we officials don't do ourselves any favours - not straight at the scrum put in for example. But, in order:

    - refs just aren't influenced by a crowd. As a ref in the middle, you just hear noise, not what is being said. Heaven forbid, the crowd is occasionally correct, so it seems like that may be true. There's no way round that! Silent crowds perhaps? ;-)
    - TMO and PT: Law saws probable. Had he not been tripped, he probably could have scored. Not definitely. And when some say harsh, others say it was a good decision. It's subjective.
    -Inexperienced official. David Rose is one of the most experienced referees in the Premiership.
    - "Repeatedly penalised the team moving forward" - just because they are going forward, doesnt mean it was legally done so. We often get asked "Why would they?" The answer: because they can, and if they get away with it, the pen goes the opposite way.
    - Not retreating yellow card - in professional rugby, they shouldn't need a warning. They know what they're doing and deserve the consequences.

    So not basic errors at all. They are mainly points of subjectivity which can be argued either way.

    A few things go amiss when it comes to talking about referees. Mainly, the law isn't always clear, and gives referees leeway to manage as they see fit. All this leeway and (lack of) clarity will always give rugby fans something to either praise or criticise depending on which side of a result or decision you end up on.

    To me, good natured discussions are one thing, the abuse that is creeping in is another. All sides need to accept some of the above, rather than just rant away and assume the ref is always wrong.

    If we get over that as a mindset, then the old fundamentals you start off by rightly discussing can carry on way into the future. We know we aren't always right, but as is evident, officials have no public voice to put views across. It's a shame and I hope the authorities consider some way of making this happen.

    1. Thank you for your feed back! It's good to get a response from a ref to give their point of view. As spectators we can only imagine what is like in the middle of the park. David rose wasn't the official in mention it was Luke Pearse at the Saints v Bath fixture, who in my opinion and of many others didn't have a particularly good game, but again that is only my interpretation. I hav always believed the respect shown to officials to be the most endearing factor of rugby and separates the sport from others, it's a tough job and takes a big man to fill those boots. I tried to cover both sides of the argument to entice debate, thanks for you input much appreciated!

  2. Nice Article, like Ref I am a referee and agree with what he has said. I too agree at times there is too much discussion player talk should be a simple clarification that can be replied in one or two words, further questions are better discussed between the referee and player after the game as not to slow the game.

    With regard to your comment "they should become fairly scrutinised and face their own sanctions" this is definitely the case, all games that are filmed and many that are not are assessed and scrutinised. There are sanctions for a referee not performing just as there are for a player not performing. In addition all referees at this level are required to perform self evaluations of games, after watch the video if possible and are often well aware of mistakes they have made in the game.

  3. Last wednesday I officiated at a public schools sevens. at the first scrum I said to the scrum half "want the ball in the middle not fed". He replied " yeh yeh yeh yeh yeh". I gave him the evil eye warning and he proceeded to feed the ball, i blew for a free kick,and he said " what the f##k" he then seemed amazed when he received a yellow card.
    Previously at the same school I've spoken to the coach about his star player who gave penalties away by cheating and he replied that that's the way he has coached him. (He was South African)Mick

  4. That is a sign of my concerns! It is almost at times as the football mentality is creeping in to the game, with a win at all cost opinion which is in danger of ruining the game. respect is one thing that is integral to the game and makes the sport what it is!