Why Referees Deserve The Respect Of Players And Fans Alike

Stephen Lewis

Stephen Lewis

Stephen is a rugby fan currently studying at Oxford Brookes University. A passionate England Supporter, Stephen is keen to discuss all things rugby. You can follow him on Twitter at @sclewis09
Stephen Lewis

The reason why matches are played.

Referees have one of the toughest jobs in sport. They have to follow the passage of play and watch out for infringements, all whilst trying to remember all the laws of the game and interpret them accordingly when said laws are unclear (how does one truly deal with a messy scrum?). Ben Whitehouse received a lot of online abuse from both players and fans for his officiating in the Clermont vs Northampton game last weekend, but it is important to remember that the referees are under pressure during the game too, not just the players. Mistakes are bound to happen in a game with such high-stakes, and it was very easy to watch the match TV and criticise his performance, whilst forgetting just how much Whitehouse had to deal with.

I refereed my first game at University level- Division 2 in this case- two weeks ago, and suffice to say, it did not go well. I let scrums wheel the entire distance without resetting, waved to play on when a player would enter from the side of the ruck and play the ball, and failed to communicate clearly with the captains when their player would be penalised. It was the toughest 80 minutes I have ever experienced in rugby and an occasion that I did not enjoy. Yes, I did not have the years of training that referees have received, nor did I have sufficient experience as a referee in general to officiate the level of quality that universities produce. I should not have accepted to referee the game in the first place. But that game of rugby made me realise just how much respect referees deserve from everyone who is a part of the rugby family.

Referees are the reason that rugby players can go out onto the pitch and entertain the thousands in the stadium, and millions watching around the world. Without them, games would not be played. They spend their entire career meticulously studying the ins-and-outs of the game, training their eyes to see a tiny incident that would otherwise go unseen. Rugby is one of the hardest sports in the world to try and officiate, with the quick pace of the game and the never ending changes to the rulebook only adding to the referee’s desire to learn the game inside out. Everyone loves to complain about the referee, but it is a position that many of the ‘arm-chair spectators’ would hate to be in themselves.

Certainly, after the events of two weeks ago, I have found a new level of respect for referees in all sports, not just rugby. Referees around the world: we thank you and applaud you.

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