When did rugby stop being a contest? Or why do we have laws in place to effectively end a contest between two teams where the spectators and fans feel the effect of a yellow or red card more than the players?
I heard an interesting remark yesterday and it got me thinking… When a player transgresses on the field of play and receives a card, who are we (read officials) effectively punishing, the team losing the player, or the spectators watching the game?
First off don’t get me wrong, ill-disciplined or foul play should be dealt with and the transgressors punished – but as things stand currently the way we go about this seems to punish the viewing audience more than it actually does the team…
Rugby is essentially a game where 15 guys on the field of play competes with 15 other guys or opposing players to see who is the best.
Officials, laws and interpretations of laws are there to ensure the contest is fair and that the team who eventually leaves the field as the winners, has done so being better than their opponents.
Laws are constantly tweaked in the game of union to ensure the contest between two sides are fair, and this in essence is what we as supporters or the viewing audience would like to see.
Rugby is also a professional sport, reliant on these factors to ensure they deliver a product to its viewing audience that is of the highest quality, but more essentially, a contest that is fair.
Under the current laws if a player transgresses through repeated, cynical or foul play offenses they run the risk of being carded. Yellow they are sent off for 10 minutes, red they miss the entire match.
The question then remains, if we alter the contest to such an extent that the one team has such a significant advantage over another team, is it still a contest and essentially, what is the point then?
When you alter the playing numbers on any side the contest disappears almost completely. It is unlikely a team reduced to 14 or less men will dominate or be able to compete against a team of 15 men. Strategies, game plans and tactics are completely altered in the team whose playing numbers were reduced not to mention the highly likely scenario that they will concede points in that period thanks to a disadvantage in player numbers.
Also, the point is really to punish the offending player is it not?
How much punishment is really given to such a player if he only takes a 10 minute break? If he is not cited in addition to being punished on the field that player is available for selection the very next week.
So who is really getting punished? The player, or the viewing audience?
Firstly, I do not want to see the game or rugby union end up as a lob-sided affair where there is no fair contest and secondly, if we are to punish offending players let’s do a proper job of it and really punish them by hitting them where it hurts most – their pockets…
Would it not make more sense if we are to keep a record of incidents in the game of rugby which is only reviewed post-match with sanctions being handed out there? These sanctions can include suspensions and even fines imposed on players and teams depending on the severity of the incident. We can still punish serious offenses on the field of play if the transgressions were clear to all on-field officials where deliberate and serious dirty play can result in a direct sending off, but what I would like to see eliminated is the guess-work that goes into the current procedure practiced where on-field officials are not afforded television replays to assist them in making decisions which alters the outcome of a match drastically, or as mentioned, effectively ends it as a contest.
Post match reviews are also done with much less emotion, and more time to evaluate a possible transgression by individuals who are not influenced by in-game scenarios such as home crowds (dare I say big screen repeats) as referees are being subjected to currently. It might also just elminate the complexity of the sentence handed down where we can get greater consistency.
The dynamics of on-field sanctions can also be altered to be more severe without ending the contest. For instance for dirty play, no matter where on the field, the team or player concedes a penalty on their 22-meter line. For deliberate and repeated or cynical foul play by the offending team in the red-zone the on-field officials can decide to award a non-goalable try (5 points only) or the option to the opposing team of a penalty in the center of the 22-meter line or where the offence took place in the red-zone.
But essentially, no team is put at the disadvantage of inferior player numbers and the viewing audience can still look forward to a fair contest.
Subsequent to the match decisions are reviewed post-match as it is currently done and if further sanctions can be imposed on the player, or even the team through fines and suspensions, it is done here. Teams will not only feel the effects of foul play much worse than is currently the case by losing the services of the player(s) in question, but both team and player will also suffer financially through a fine-based system imposed on either with the player also losing out of any future match fees.
It has become clear that we will never be able to remove the human element of referees in union, for that very reason we will always have inconsistent decisions made by officials. The easiest or most logical solution is to remove that responsibility from the referee who only has one shot at viewing an incident and making a call – in essence removing what is largely guesswork from the officials. Guesswork which can and does influence the outcome of a match and a contest.
The point of laws and sanctioning of players is to clean up the game of rugby and make it fair and I agree with this 100%, but let’s raise the stakes for teams and players without putting the viewing (and paying) audience at a disadvantage by ending the game as a contest.Tweet