11th August 2019, 21:46 | untitled
It’s been a challenging couple of weeks, for everyone in the match officials department. We will handle that – our referees are hard-working, with really high levels of resilience, and we provide them with as much support as possible. But I do think this might a good time for all sections of the game to take a step back, and reflect – especially as we approach the business end of the season, when the game is in the national shop window, but when the pressures also increase.
One specific example that anyone watching televised fixtures in the last couple of weeks will have noted, is the question of on-field dissent. We’ve seen a worrying trend emerging, where certain players seem to feel it is their right to question, to argue, or in extreme cases to engage in a running battle with match officials. I think it’s important for me to say publically now, so that supporters are aware as well as players and coaches – dissent towards the match officials will not be tolerated. It’s up to the players – if they choose to do it, they should expect the consequences.
Referees can penalise, advance the mark 10 metres, sin-bin and even dismiss. Captains are entitled to seek clarification on a ruling, but not to continue to debate. I’ve seen examples of players trying to convince referees visually and verbally to rule against the opposition – for me, that’s not acceptable in Rugby League.
The introduction of the RFL’s Enjoy the Game campaign, building on the progress made under the Respect banner in recent years, was an attempt to stress the positives of good behaviour, at all levels. What happens in the professional game does affect what happens in grassroots and junior rugby. When match officials are blamed for a defeat, that has an impact – on our recruitment and retention of aspiring officials, as well as the behaviour of those at lower levels.
Of course our officials make mistakes – they are doing a very difficult job, and often on reviewing games, calls remain very tight and continue to split opinion. They are held to high account, and reviewed meticulously, with KPIs analysed independently working with Opta Sports alongside their own detailed self-analysis. But when they are presented as the major or only reason a team has suffered a loss, I think it often says more about the person saying that than about the officials themselves.
It’s not only the players on the field who have a responsibility to the game. The focus of our sport is so often directed towards the match officials, whether that’s from coaches, commentators or fans. Perhaps after a number of disappointing incidents through the course of the season, there’s a chance that for the next couple of months we could focus more on the positive attributes – the physical and mental toughness of the players, the skills on show, the sportsmanship which remains a great asset, the brilliant tries, the wonderful contests we’ve got coming up. It’s not only match officials who would benefit if we could all remember those three words – Enjoy the Game.