Reproduced with permission from Jonathan Kaplan.
It’s not unusual these days for referees to be in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. In fact, it’s more likely that there will be more controversy in the coming weeks and months because not enough is being done to help them. It is pointless to axe referees for one week after weeks and months of inept performances. It is merely staving off the next public outcry.
Members of the public have lost faith in the ability of some officials to get it right, and so have the players and teams. The media are constantly scurrying to paint the positives when in actual fact there have been some inept performances, which have had a direct result not only on outcome of a fixture, but the competition itself. Each time long-overdue action is taken, it smacks of crisis management on the part of the authorities.
There should have been remedial steps put in place to help referees a long time ago, and a far more ruthless approach taken in the pursuit of excellence. There is not enough synergy, not enough coherent preparation and not enough integrity in a failing system, and the poor referee is left to try pick up the pieces.
They need more attention, better remuneration and more coaching. The present system has got bogged down and is now running way behind the needs of the modern game. It’s not all doom and gloom, though: there are some referees who have grown very nicely into their roles, such as Angus Gardner of Australia and New Zealand’s Mike Fraser, who have shown remarkable improvement through hard work and application. When Gardner has made a mistake, as he did a couple of weeks ago in Melbourne, it is easier to forgive. Indeed, the same can be said of Glen Jackson — usually a steady performer with a great feel for the game as a former player — who made a howler with television match official (TMO) Vinny Munro, which probably denied the Chiefs a vital victory against the Hurricanes this past weekend.
Australia’s Rohan Hoffmann has been axed for his part in the Waratahs-Sharks debacle, but in truth it should have happened ages ago. What was the difference between that and the Hurricanes-Stormers match a few weeks ago? Nothing. This is clearly not a matter of confidence. Consequently, it is no surprise to me that there are only four referees from the southern hemisphere at the Rugby World Cup. They are generally not good enough. So, how could it be sorted out?
- Referee management must take responsibility for systemic failure by looking to be far more progressive in helping referees and consequently far more ruthless in selection.
- Throw some cash at the problem and stop trying to put out fires. Make sure you get the right quality of individual to do the work required, whether it be the coach, the TMO, or the referee.
- Get someone who is prepared to interface between the referees and the rest of the stakeholders, such as the media and the public, to ensure a better flow of information. The referee will have to accept the consequences when he gets it wrong, but it would lead to far greater credibility.
- Introduce the player-coach challenge, such as the one at Varsity Cup, thus giving our customers a better deal.
- I feel that the logistical and financial gains that are made by the present merit-based system are possibly antiquated. Rugby is saving money through referees staying at home. While the thinking is that referees travelling less is good for their mental state and, as a result, performance, there is still a perception that a referee officiating a team from his country is likely to be biased. It’s either neutrality, or …
- Get a referee coach. Referees meet once a year for a few days and then very few times after that. Employ the top eight referees and tell them they are going to referee all the games. That way there will be a far better chance of consistency in application, and far less political meddling.
- Transform the law book into something much simpler. There are a lot of laws in the law book that we knowingly don’t apply, yet they’re written in the same ink. If we’re not going to apply them, why don’t we get rid of them? • Stop using this competition to develop for the next tier. There are far too many substandard referees.
- We must get a clearer picture of what should be happening at scrum time, and what the referees should be aiming for. I know from experience that there are so many dissenting voices that it leads to confusion.
- Make sure there is a credible judiciary, whose judgments are perceived to be consistent and protect the integrity of the competition.
First published by Business Day Live