Wednesday, 6 April 2011
With the Football Association desperately trying to breath life into its “Respect” campaign – designed at reducing the ridiculous levels of dissent from players towards referees – commentators are quick to compare the on-field actions of professional footballers with their rugby playing counterparts. Why, they ask, can’t football be like rugby, where respect for the referee is paramount, where there is no dissent and where only the team captains are permitted to ‘clarify’ refereeing decisions?
Methinks such commentators are living in cloud cuckoo land. Perhaps, just perhaps, such a utopian scenario once existed but, while not yet at the levels of angrily surrounding and intimidating match officials as is commonly witnessed in football, rugby players are by no means faultless when it comes to their relationship with referees. At the professional level cheating (in the form of getting away with whatever you can) is rife, as is more or less constant chat from players attempting to influence decisions. Open dissent is less common (although not unheard of) from players, but it is now almost expected that a team’s coach will indulge in pre-match attempts to influence the referee and post match criticism of the referee’s decisions.
At grassroots level it is perhaps even worse. Certainly since I laced up my boots again in 2007 I’ve noticed a far greater antipathy towards referees from players in general and most matches I’ve played have been accompanied by a continuous soundtrack of moans, complaints and backchat.
So, while I’m not suggesting for one moment that a rugby referee’s problems are at the levels experienced by his football equivalent, let’s not kid ourselves that everything in the rugby garden is coming up roses. What’s going on in rugby isn’t great and, unless we’re careful, might just end up being the thin end of the wedge.