Here’s a prescription for players, fans, coaches, team officials, team owners and (yes) referees in every sport that is not rugby:
Watch more rugby.
Yes, the action is terrific. The Women’s Rugby World Cup that ended Saturday with New Zealand winning another championship was fast, hard-hitting and exciting. But we all need to watch rugby to see the proper way to officiate a sport, because no one does it better. In fact, no one does it nearly as well, which is the point.
The lack of respect between players and officials is a festering, explosive issue across most of the team sports we watch: baseball, soccer, basketball, football, hockey. But in rugby, officials clearly respect the players and vice versa. You see a group of hulking beasts with cauliflower ears talking to a ref, you fear that he’s going to be torn apart like a lamb chop in a wolf pen.
But the discourse (and rugby at the World Cup level is the most transparent sport, with the referees and even replay review official miked so that we know exactly what is being said) is polite to a fault.
No matter how high the stakes, players and officials alike behave with mutual decorum and respect. During New Zealand’s Women’s Rugby World Cup victory over England Saturday, New Zealand’s Sarah Goss (who captained her rugby sevens team at the Olympics) was sent off for a tackle “above the horizontal” on England’s ball-carrier.
After a careful review (during which we could hear every word exchanged between the referee and the replay crew) the referee decided that the tackle was high and Goss was dispatched to the sin bin in a title game. In soccer, such a decision would have signalled a full-scale brouhaha, with players surrounding the ref in the most intimidating fashion, screaming and shouting and gesticulating.
When Sarah Goss was sent off, she contented herself with a mild eyeroll. Her teammates accepted the decision and went back to work.
From what I have seen, men’s rugby is no different.
Contrast that behaviour with soccer, in which it’s open season on officials. When Cristiano Ronaldo was given a five-match ban for giving a referee a violent shove at the start of the current season, Ronaldo protested like the prima donna he is and his supporters joined the chorus. Why? If you lay a hand on an official it should cost you half a season, not five games.
Diving draws far more attention than the abuse of officials in soccer – but it’s all part of disrespecting the referees and (by extension) the game. I’m sick of seeing every free kick greeted with a dramatic protest on the part of the offending player and, on occasion, his teammates as well: accept the decision and move on.
Baseball seems to be moving more and more in the direction of soccer, with players like Jose Bautista leading the way in protesting every call. Look at Detroit’s Ian Kinsler abusing umpire Angel Hernandez, bat in hand, in an incident that helped spark the decision by Major League Umpires to wear white wristbands protesting the treatment they endure. Kinsler received only a fine for behaviour that wouldn’t be tolerated for an instant on a rugby pitch.
What’s rugby’s secret? Tradition plays a big part. Like cricket, rugby was once more an upper-crust sport and certain things simply weren’t done. But the tradition has been perpetuated, in part, by the transparency of the officiating. (It goes without saying that over time, the level of refereeing has to be consistently good or the system would collapse.)
North American leagues would be horrified at the thought, but I find it very useful to be able to hear very word a referee is saying, including her exchanges with players and with other officials. Rugby referees communicate: they explain decisions to players carefully and they even issue warnings during play.
Because you can hear the referee trying to get it right, you tend to go along with the calls. In rugby you have the sense that the players are actively participating in the effort to officiate the game correctly, rather than actively obstructing it as they do in soccer.
By including the replay review people in the process, rugby assures greater acceptance of the results on the part of the fans and media. The Goss decision was briefly questioned by the commentators at the World Cup and left at that: it could have gone either way.
The NHL’s secretive war room in Toronto, run by the game’s old boy network with after-the-fact explanations that are little more than spin, is a perfect example of a process that could be improved by transparency. Right now, the NHL is somewhere in the middle of the pack in terms of mutual respect between players and referees — better than soccer, baseball and basketball, far worse than rugby.
Everyone connected with the league should sit down and watch a rugby World Cup, start to finish. If nothing else, they would see a great sport, properly officiated.
By Jack Todd, Special to the Montreal Gazette.
The Camp will be held on October 14, 2017 on Field 15 at the Regional Athletic Complex. Player check in commences at the Cannibals tent at 12.00pm. The camp is open to all players registered with Utah Youth Rugby at no extra cost. Players not yet registered as a High School Player with Utah Youth Rugby must do so before arriving at camp.
The purpose of the camp is to identify players to be considered for selection to represent the State of Utah as a Utah Cannibal at the Las Vegas Invitational (Las Vegas, NV) and Roslyn Park 7s (London, England) in March 2018. The identification process commenced with Leg 1 of the Utah Youth Rugby High 2017 Fall 7s Series and will culminate with a winter camp in December 2017.
The camp will help players improve their 7s skills and expose them to the latest 7s strategies. Players attending the camp will be observed and identified for possible inclusion in the Utah Cannibals players pool.
The Utah Cannibals mission is to build young men and women of deep character through high performance rugby sevens. We do this by placing a high emphasis on determination, honor, pride, strength and teamwork.
Utah Cannibals is the Official Elite Select All-State Rugby 15s and 7s team of Utah Youth Rugby, the USA Rugby sanctioned State Based Rugby Organization (SRO) in Utah. Players selected to play for the Utah Cannibals are selected to represent the State of Utah. Players are selected from over 30 high school teams in Utah. Players are selected based on their skill, rugby IQ and character. The Cannibals are not only the best rugby players in Utah, but are also among the best young men and women we can find.