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28th September 2015

Referee respect

Harry Newton assesses how football can learn from rugby in how to treat their officials

With the arrival of the much-anticipated Rugby World Cup last week, the country has contracted Rugby Fever! A sport that generically plays second fiddle to football has fought its way to the forefront of people’s minds and the backfront of the presses. In comparison to football, rugby is a game with more aggression, more players and more scoring, but despite this scope for potential problems for referees, they are treated with respect and protection, unlike within The Beautiful Game.

Last Saturday saw Garth Crooks, BBC pundit, launch a tirade at football referee Mike Dean, after his performance in the Arsenal vs. Chelsea game, which involved Arsenal being reduced to nine men through ill discipline. The ex-Tottenham Hotspur and Stoke City man became visibly heated as he continued his rant about Dean. Crooks stated that, “the only people who were interested in sending the player off… were the officials,” when discussing Gabriel’s departure.

He then went on to comment about Dean himself; “I think Mike Dean is a really good referee, but he’s got one fault—he wants to be the star too often, and it’s really getting on my nerves. It’s not about you Mike, it’s about the game.” He went on to liken him to a “petulant school teacher,” labeled him “over officious” and suggested he looks for excuses to send off players. A pundit may be paid to express their opinion on the game, but this is a step too far from Crooks, who made this debacle personal.

This is not the only time that somebody has come out into the media to slam Mike Dean, as in March of last year Nigel Pearson, ex-Leicester City manager, described Dean as “one of the most arrogant people” he has met.

Whether or not the views of Crooks or Pearson are in any way accurate is irrelevant. Both of these comments are just two examples that have been cherry-picked from a pool of hundreds of other examples where pundits, managers and footballers have shown a complete lack of respect for the officials. In a world where managers will not comment on a player’s individual performance after a game, they have absolutely no problem criticising the referee’s individual performance. Strange.

Week in, week out, we see footballers harass the referee. Whether it be the infamous sending off of Manchester United’s ex-player Ángel Di María last season for tugging at a referee’s shirt, or the constant moans of Diego Costa, players simply do not treat the referee the way that they should. Rules indicate that a referee can show a yellow card to a player for arguing an official’s decision. This has not changed the situation much, however, because if they booked every player that argued with them, the game would eventually become into the referee playing crossbar challenge, alone.

Differences in rugby show how a referee can be treated correctly. Whilst watching England beat Fiji in their opening game of the Rugby World Cup last Friday, the commentators fell silent whilst the referee walked over to an offending player. We heard the referee speak, via a microphone, to the offender, telling him calmly what he had done wrong. And the player accepted the referee’s explanation. This happened time and time again without complaint, because the microphone gave the referee protection, so that the world could hear what was being said between the two. Football referees already have a microphone during the games; making this device’s output public would make footballers think twice about what they are saying to the referee, and would open up understanding as to why referees make the decisions that they make.

Of course, it is not just the microphone that makes players respect the referee, since respect is instilled at lower levels of the game and from a young age. This is something that English football is trying to do via the “Get On With The Game” initiative. Going to a game played between children does not always turn out to be as joyful and carefree as you would expect, with some referees getting a much harder time than even Mike Dean has received from Garth Crooks. Starting to eradicate the problem at this level is progress; however, it will only work if Premier League players act like role models to these children and do the same.

Whether the sport is rugby or football, one thing is apparent—you will not change the referee’s decision. No referee will give a foul, only to then change their mind once Diego Costa has sprinted over to tell him that he is wrong. However, one thing that is different in rugby is that the referee’s decision is given more with a greater explanation, because he can discuss with officials watching overhead and consult a video replay. This instills more confidence in the players towards the officials and gives us a much more accurate sport.

The problem with football is that we find ourselves in a vicious cycle. If we introduce this, it will mean more correct calls and gain referees more respect. However, with the current lack of respect from players, this would lead to officials calling for a video replay on most decisions, undermining the referee’s trained decision-making skills.

There is no doubt that the introduction of video would help a referee in instances of difficult decisions; would make the game run more smoothly; and would overall gain the referees more respect as authoritarians of the game. But football does not deserve this until players, managers and even pundits treat referees with the respect that they deserve.

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