15th May 2018, 18:30 | steve_mascord

WE GOT ISSUES: Discipline

WE GOT ISSUES: Discipline

By Steve Mascord

THE rugby historian Tony Collins recently endorsed the belief that changes in media technology can also herald changes in the sporting landscape.

In most cases, new technology just enshrines things until the next media revolution. The sports that were popular when printing presses came into use were frozen at the top by the ability to spread information quickly, with other sports just unfortunate to have had their day in the sun just before.

When radio happened, in some territories there was a bit of a reshuffle at the top. The same with TV. And Collins argues that Rugby League can get the better of another shake-up currently taking place with social media … if we’re smart.

Of course, what social media encourages is debate. Everyone can be a newspaper columnist. Opinions gain currency by being retweeted and shared.

And of course, most of these opinions are on rather banal topics. Was that a pass forward? Did he knock-on over the line? Was there contact with the head? Sure, they matter to you if your team lost but - objectively - a bunch of human beings making observations on mechanical events they witnessed is rather monotonous and pointless.

However, the great thing about this everyman punditry is that it sometimes strays into intellectual and even moral territory. 

And so it was on Sunday when Warrington eliminated Toronto from the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup 66-10. Although I was there, I had other duties which prevented me from watching any more than 10 minutes of the action.

At full-time I saw colleague Chris Irvine Tweet in praise of referee Ben Thaler while my friend, former Cronulla chairman Damian Irvine, was equally strident in his criticism of the whistler. I didn’t know what to think.

Over the past two days, I’ve watched the game increments in between working. 

Regarding the sending-off of Andrew Dixon, I’ve got to say I was surprised - but that’s because I’m used to watching the NRL (even though I’ve watched more championship and Super League this year) where no-one gets sent off for anything. There, this would have been a sin bin. That's not to say I oppose the red card - even the Wolfpack seemed to accept it was fair enough under the rules as they understood them.

Equally, Liam Kay would not have been sent to the sin bin in Oz; they don’t use it for foul play. He would have been placed on report and probably suspended.

But captain Josh McCrone would not have stayed on the pitch in Wollongong or Canberra. No way. And you’d have to question whether he would have spoken to an NRL referee that way.

McCrone made one crucial mistake that, thankfully, is more interesting that the usual humdrum Twitter debate about a sport. He told Thaler that respect is “a two-way street”.

It’s not.

Referees do not have to earn a player’s respect. It comes with the uniform. 

This plays into a column I would have written before the game, after watching Castleford-St Helens and hearing the discussion about club Twitter accounts criticising match officials.

I’ll start this discussion with a question: why do you get banned for life for punching a referee but you might be back the next week if you hit a player?

The answer is obvious: because the referee represents the sport itself. Punching a non-participant who is there in service of the sport is nothing but common assault and any more lenient ban than life would send the message that if you are frustrated with a call, it’s OK to deck the guy who made it.

The lesson is: it doesn’t matter if the call is wrong, without respect for the office of referee we have open air brawling, not a sport. Respect for the referee is, in this way, what MAKES something a sport and not just a random gathering.

Yet the ratio of one week: life between punching player: referee is not represented elsewhere in our sport. We've lost sight of it and that weakens our culture.

I couldn’t believe it last year, after a Wolfpack home game in which players brawled after being sent to the sin bin, that the players involved were hit with a feather. Brawling outside the field of play is an egregious disregard for the authority of the match official and therefore a repudiation of the entire sport.

It should be punished in the harshest possible way.

Professional rugby league sits at the top of a volunteer pyramid. That’s why professional players are judged more harshly than members of the public when they go out - because it is a privileged position and they trade on “representing” a community. 

That notion, that the club “represents” us, is what keeps the cash register ticking.

So, when a coach or a captain or a media manager disrespects referees - usually because of one of those boring mechanical observations I spoke about earlier - they are giving the green light to everyone who feels represented by them to do likewise. Sure, they may feel pressure to represent fans' frustration with a call by giving it a voice but it is vitally important not to stray into general comments on integrity and competency.

As explained, if the office of match official is not respected then we don’t have a sport.

They are the civilisers in this mock-up of real life, the ones who represent the entire structures which dictate what we are all doing here this afternoon, crammed into this stadium. Denigrating them is just trying to add a fifth side to your monopoly board or a second king in the middle of a Chess game.

The #refsfault culture exposes us as idiots who are so caught up something intended to be merely an entertaining distraction that we want to tear down its structures - to the point where it wouldn't exist in the first place. 

It shows we, not the poor refs, are actually the ones who ‘don’t know what we’re doing’.