Referees need help, not punishment

Written by Maria Delport (Letgo)

Posted in :Springboks on 20 Sep 2013 at 15:03
Tagged with : , ,

Over the past week I have been chewing on the referee saga going on. I decided not to react. There was enough of that going on. Poite made a horrible mistake, one which, even with only the current systems in place, could have been avoided. I suppose that’s what further irks every South Africa fan, that it seems that pride and entitlement on the part of Poite had to play some sort of role in making the decision he made, the way he did. 

Some fans are suggesting that South Africa be awarded bonus points – the ones we may have missed out on, but who’s to say New Zealand didn’t give us a good thrashing, had the game stayed a fair contest. And a rematch sounds so romantic and “Disney”, but lets face it, it’s not how things are done in the real world. Why would that be fair anyway? It’s over. Nothing can be done and I don’t want any special treatment or favours anyway.

What I do want is for this situation to be taken seriously. This is not an isolated situation. Too many matches have been spoiled by bad officiating and many have been solely decided by one bad mistake by a referee. I think fans are getting tired of this. I know I am.

Poite can be made an example of and, like a few before him, never get close to an international match again, but lets face it, another will take his place and make the same mistakes again. Fact is, if it’s “human error” then the fault lies with the system, not the ref? I’m on board with the call of the IRB that referees are also human. I have viewed them from a far as an entity that I have not always been able to associate myself with, but I have recently come to the realisation that against all my suspicions they are in fact human and not alien. It’s hard for a rugby fan to look at a referee objectively when passion and disappointment clouds all judgement. It doesn’t matter how difficult it is to spot every law and technicality or every slight knock on – that’s his job and we want him to make the right decision every time. I hate it when my team loses, but when they lose because a ref made a wrong call, I’m furious.

I expect a referee to have a perfect game every time – and I don’t think that’s unfair. I realise that it is almost impossible, but I don’t think it’s unfair. Too expect anything less, would make me one of those people who say: “Accept it, let it go, move on.” you know, the “It’s part of the game” type of people (you know who you are). And because that’s just what everyone has been doing, Bismarck got a yellow card last week that he did not deserve and if people continue accepting these errors as – “Part of the game” or “Just human error” things like this will continue to happen.

So no, don’t blame the ref, don’t even punish him, but please, who ever has the power,  do everything you can to ensure that things like this don’t continue to spoil our sport weekend after weekend. I can’t just accept mistakes as part of the game. When mistakes happen, solutions should be found to prevent them or at least keep them to the very minimum.

So many suggestions have been going around on what could solve this problem, because for me it is a big problem. It has been taking the joy out of too many of the games I have watched recently (including games where I am an impartial viewer).

Why can’t the laws be simplified? For example, if you give 10 referees a clip of the exact same scrum, would there be uniformity in their decision? I might be wrong, but I highly doubt it. That’s not just  a complicated rule being interpreted. It’s not fair. You continue hearing – we just want consistency, but if one ref blows a match one way and another blows the next match completely different, where’s the consistency in that? Rugby is a complicated sport and that’s one of the things I love about it, but there certainly is some merit in the argument that simplifying the laws will assist referees in improving their performances and consistency across the board.

There is also a strong argument being made for more power for the TMO. In fact there could be an argument for the TMO having even more authority than the on field ref, as he has the benefit of camera angles and slow motion replays. He has more time and less pressure. Why should a ref be able to go back to his decision? If a TMO disagrees, he should have the authority to overrule or ask the assistant referees to confer. As a viewer, I have always felt that in some instances a ref was unsighted to see an indecent when from my point of view it was a blatant error. A TMO has this same view and could therefore throw out the proverbial flag (as the sideline assistants do), wait for a stop of play and relay the incident to the referee, upon which a decision can be made. Any suggestion that time would be an issue is quite frankly verging on insane for me, as the game has slowed down so much for injuries and other fussy stuff on the field, that time might as well be spent on something important.

I also feel strongly about giving the captains the power to challenge. One challenge per half system should be instated, where the captain can challenge any call (when play has stopped). I say any call, because it should be up to the captain. And the captain can make as many ‘CORRECT’ challenges as he wants to. If he makes 20 correct challenges it just proves the incompetence of the ref, not the system.

Others have suggested that a second referee should be added to the field of play, where the field is divided in length. The counter argument is that a second referee would get in the way of play, which is fair, but surely it could be tested before it is thrown out. And if that does not work, I still feel that the referee on the field should not have the sole authority, or “final say”. Referees should work together. An assistant should never feel intimidated by the referee and his title as the authority on the field. It has surely influence assistants to ignore things the referee has missed in fear of “going over the referees head”. In fact, referees should be rated together. If a bad decision was made by one, it should reflect just as much on the other. They should work together in an effort to bring the best quality out of the game.

Incorporating many of these suggestions could possibly have the effect that rugby loses some of its rhythm, but I think referees should still be urged and rated (positively) on how capable they are of making calls without the assistance of replays. Therefore higher class games would be handled by referees who use technology less, without making too many errors and lesser games would be refereed by refs who needs more assistance. The advantage is, both games will end with fair calls.

There are so many things to be done or at least tried and tested to improve the officiating and therefore the game. All I want is for this really bad incident (just like so many before) to spark some action.

As for the Springboks. They can still redeem this situation. They just have to find some inspiration. Maybe this whole saga will just be the thing to do that. It certainly has sparked something in the supporters and I can almost guarantee that both the last games, but especially the All Black game, will be a huge thriller not to be missed.


  • Yaaaas! Great article. Not much reasonable thinking going on out there regarding this situation. Never thought about it but I can’t fault the logic of empowering the TMO to overrule a poor decision.

    When it comes to carding a player I firmly believe that this needs to be referred to the TMO as a process, and not as a choice. Cards just have too much of an impact on a game for one person to be responsible for them.

  • Comment 1, posted at 20.09.13 16:03:50 by gregkaos Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld Author
  • Thanks, an interesting piece. I’ve also suggested the idea of a challenge system on Facebook. It works well in every other code I’ve had exposure to that employs the system.

    Nick Mallet made an interesting comment during an interview – he claims that the IRB wants the same game of rugby to be played across all levels. The IRB don’t welcome/like ideas such as a challenge system or giving the TMO too much influence as this can only be implemented at a professional level.

    His contention is that they should leave their romantic ideas behind and start admitting that rugby is played at a professional level too. I couldn’t agree more.

    When rugby is your livelihood and decisions can put your career and reputation at risk, bring in all the help necessary.

  • Comment 2, posted at 20.09.13 16:03:57 by vanmartin Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld Author
  • With the situation with the referrals, TMO and the ref allowed to review on the big screen a ref who does not use any of the technology at his disposal to ensure the correct decision is made when it is such a critical decision should never ref a rugby game again. Lets start with Poite. The ref is never bigger than the game.

  • Comment 3, posted at 20.09.13 16:58:42 by markp Reply

  • Regarding the firs yellow card bismack got agains the al blacks. Why doe we have the technology to reveiw tries and forward passes but not reveiw incident like the one that cost us a possible win. What would you say to an standard question the referees should ask when a try is scored. Try or no try? The other questions of reason not to award a try does not always go the right way. If the referees ask one standard question then all is fair.

  • Comment 4, posted at 21.09.13 05:10:59 by Shark Overide Reply

  • Interesting comments, you got me thinking that perhaps we should have refereeing “teams”, consisting of the ref, 2 assistant refs and the video ref.
    The team would have a name and their performance could be rated, unofficially, at the end of year. They would probably be more likely to work for each other, as the whole reffing team would be responsible together for their bad decisions.

  • Comment 5, posted at 22.09.13 13:48:58 by willyzn Reply

  • I think the current system of the use of the TMO can be simplified. At the moment a lot of teh problems results in the questions the ref asked the TMO and thus restricts what the TMO can say. Im sorry but thats is just retarded. Thats like being robbed and shot and the police asking only about the robbery. Rediculous. If the ref is unsure about any decision, he should just quickly go to the TMO and ask the TMO to have a look and advise- thats it. The TMO can then say anything based on what he sees. The ref can then use all this info as he wished. Simple, effective, done! Its not rocket science!

  • Comment 6, posted at 23.09.13 09:21:03 by SheldonK Reply

  • @SheldonK (Comment 6) : I agree

  • Comment 7, posted at 23.09.13 10:37:42 by benji Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld
  • I posted my question above on supersports Q&A with myndon Bray. Its taking a long time for the answers to be posted but Let’s see what he thinks.

  • Comment 8, posted at 24.09.13 07:10:24 by Shark Overide Reply


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