Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Whatever happened to: Respect?

OK, so hot on the heels of the last one, here's another in a somewhat sporadic series of observations about "stuff" that appears to have disappeared from the game since I started playing rugby back in the Jurassic era.

And this time, just to keep things topical, my attention is focused on an area I have touched upon previously...

...whatever happened to respect?

I am referring, of course, to respect for referees.

'Woah,' I hear you say, 'the one thing you can say about rugby is that the referee's decision is sacrosanct - we even call him 'Sir' for heaven's sake - we're not like those oik footballers with their cheating and their dissent and their intimidation of officials.'

Once upon a time I would have agreed with a statement along those lines. Once upon a time it was unthinkable to voice disapproval at a decision given against your team. Once upon a time the merest squeak of an objection would be met with your team being marched back 10 metres accompanied by murderous glances from your front row. Once upon a time only the politest of enquiries from the captain as to the reason behind a decision would be permitted.

It's all very different in today's game which at the elite level is accompanied by what appears to be a barrage of dialogue between the players and the referee with much of the language used being somewhat industrial to say the least. It was only a matter of time before someone went too far. Dylan Hartley obliged last weekend at Twickenham and paid a heavy price. 

In addition we have Head Coaches publicly voicing their concerns about referees before matches, berating officials during matches and openly criticising refereeing performances in post-match media interviews.

We even have the appointment of the captain for the British & Irish Lions justified on the basis of his ability to manage and influence referees on the field which, when you think about it, is a terribly sad state of affairs.

The problem is that all of this also filters down to the grassroots level. There was a marked difference in attitudes towards referees between the mid 90s when I first hung up my boots and 2007 when I re-emerged (briefly) from retirement. Rugby in the 80s and 90s was largely a one-way dialogue - "peep"..."offside number 7"..."penalty blue"..."back 10" - with the occasional "sorry, sir" in response. Nowadays pretty much every decision appears to be preceded by a constant flow of 'advice' from both sides and followed by a cacophony of moans, whinges and objections from the penalised players. I found this quite shocking on my return to the game and, frankly, playing rugby was nowhere near as enjoyable as a consequence.

Kids are still taught that respect for referees is paramount but, ultimately, what example is being set? Whilst it's true that things aren't anywhere near as bad as in the round ball game, rugby stands at the top of a slippery slope. It's something the powers that be need to clamp down on.

At least one thing positive did emerge from the weekend - I suspect the penny has now dropped that calling a referee a "fucking cheat" is never a good idea.

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