The past couple of weeks we saw a number of senior players and captains questioning almost ever decision on the field that the referees are making. We also saw the strike by EP Referee’s last weekend over the abuse that they must tolerate week in and week out. I was able to pop a few questions to Former international referee and current General Manager of Referees at SARU Andre Watson on theses issues and some other aspects. – Jacques Nortier
JN: Super Rugby is into its final two weeks, are you pleased with your referee’s performances?
Andre Watson :Overall yes, But there is always room for improvement as some were better than others.
JN: SA Rugby Referees set a high standard for the referees, are you pleased with the progress your referees made throughout the year so far? Andre
Watson :We started off slowly in terms of quality of performances but believe it is picking up momentum, I really am looking forward to the CC season.
JN: I am sure a lot of our bloggers have read Johnathan Kaplan’s biography by now and in the book he does explain how much pressure referees comes under not just from the public but also clubs, unions and players. How do you as an organisation firstly and second the referees themselves cope with this pressure?
Andre Watson :It is not easy but comes with the territory. This is an aspect that makes refs unique – or stupid- but they need to operate under pressure, handle pressure, learn from it and move on. At SARU level we have structures to assist referee development, there are referee coaches and peer mentoring also takes place. Post-match there is also a debriefing procedure where the individual’s performance is evaluated and guidance offered.
JN: We had the unfortunate incident last week where the EP Referees refused to referee matches due to ongoing abuse, how serious is this or is this just isolated incidents?
Andre Watson :The EP incident is not isolated. All 14 provincial Societies will be able to report numerous incidents on a weekly basis. The incidents will be mainly verbal abuse but sometimes physical as well. And, unfortunately, this is not restricted to club rugby as it takes place at schools also.
JN : How can we prevent this from happening ?
Andre Watson :We need to accept that referees are human and treat them as such. That they will make mistakes but it is not intentional. That 99% of all referees do not get paid to referee, they simply do it because they love the game. We recently distributed a Code of Conduct booklet that outlines acceptable behaviour guidelines for coaches, spectators and players to help promote better field-side behaviour towards referees.
JN :What can we do to stop this kind of abuse towards referees going forward?
Andre Watson :The rugby family should say no to any kind of abuse, whether it be verbal or physical. (we should shed the culture of non-tolerance of rugby referees and look at how cricket umpires are treated, respected, accepted).
JN : In the last couple of weeks we could see and hear how senior Springboks and captains of South African teams question every little decision that does not go their way, how are we handling this kind of ill disciple from our top players?
Andre Watson :The top referees in SA – and we agree – have an approach of being available to Captains and players. All in order to improve the product. However, we do not want this to get out of hand or tarnish the essence of what rugby stands for. Hence I guess this approach will be re-assessed and get closer to what the law book requires.
JN :Changing to more positive note, we see a lot of young referee’s coming through, what is the progress in developing referee’s going?
Andre Watson :We have a positive growth and am very happy about it, but if the abuse and general perception towards referees change, the growth will be higher. Our research shows that one of the biggest stumbling blocks to increasing the number of referees is the negative perception that people have towards them.
JN :What can people and especially young men and women do to get involve in referring?
Andre Watson :They can contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org or their local Provincial Society. They will not regret it as it is the “best seat in the house” Especially if you like pressure! For those interested in refereeing, or even issues around the Laws of the Game, the referees website at www.sareferees.co.za is a great resource to visit.
A number of rugby-playing high schools have established refereeing as a sport within the normal extra-mural offering. This is a great way for young people to get involved, referee age groups below themselves and gain experience and confidence.