This is not Soccer!
20 January 2013
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Most of us are used to the regular rants of high-profile soccer managers blaming referee decisions for their team losing a game, be it for a penalty awarded or not awarded, an offside missed or for a red card. Add to that the seemingly institutionalised cheating by soccer players who appeal for everything regardless of fact and it is a poor example shown to young supporters of the game.
At community rugby level, far more than at the elite level, players seem to be increasingly asking the referee about his decisions, pointing out that the opposition were in fact at fault and not them. This isn’t just an exchange of opinions about the law but more often an attempt to put doubt in a referee’s mind in the hope that he will make a different decision next time. Touchline behaviour is on the whole very good with the banter often being of the highest quality, but there are times when support at even clubs at the lowest levels of the league structure strays towards abuse.
Rugby is very proud of its Core Values, not least the ones of Respect and Discipline; respect for the referee’s decisions and the discipline to not be abusive when you feel things haven’t gone your way. We need to remember those values when we are playing or watching games.
Harlequins’ Director of Rugby Conor O’Shea and Leicester’s Richard Cockerill were warned by the RFU after both made critical comments in the press about the performance of referee’s in recent games. I am sure they were both frustrated otherwise they wouldn’t have been so public in their views but what happens at International and Premiership levels trickles down to the community game. I regularly read match reports of clubs around Eastern Counties and I am seeing more and more where the referee is reproached for making questionable decisions and at worst is blamed for a team losing the game. I remember several years ago an Eastern Counties club was asked by the County committee to remove references to a referee’s performance that in the author’s view had cost his side the game. With the increasing use of social media, clubs need to be even more aware of what is put in the public domain in their name, and they should not be surprised when disciplinary action is taken if they transgress.
A referee doesn’t win or lose a game; players do. I watch dozens of games every season at community level, and of course referees make mistakes, but that is part of our game. The best we can ask is that they are consistent with their interpretation of the laws and that they see most of what goes on during play. So a plea to writers of match reports and to club officials who are interviewed for the local paper; please do not publicly criticise the match official whether your team won or not.
Experienced referees have their own way of handling players that are constantly in their ear. Brian Moore regularly questioned the accuracy of referees’ decisions when he was playing, but he was floored when one official replied with ‘Don’t blame me because you’re playing badly!’
Finally, I’ll leave you with a video clip from where I took the title of this article. It involves my favourites referee Nigel Owens and his lecture to a player that kept giving him backchat.