Mark Keohane.
Mark Keohane.

It’s time referees step up to the hot seat

By Opinion Time of article published Mar 6, 2021

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By Mark Keohane

CAPE TOWN - England rugby coach Eddie Jones refused to answer the question about referee Pascal Gauzere’s obviously incorrect decisions that resulted in two Welsh tries.

England had lost and Jones said that if he answered the question he would be fined and he still wanted to put food on the table for his wife and food in the bowl for his dog.

He may have been joking about not having enough in the bank to feed his family and pet but he wasn’t joking about the fine.

A coach or a player speaks out and they are bringing the game into disrepute. They are fined. A referee cocks up and he or she is human. The reward is to get another assignment.

In professional sport, human error is no longer an acceptable excuse when it comes to officiating. The availability and use of technology, however invasive and ponderous to the flow of the game, should make up for a referee’s incompetence or poor decision-making.

It doesn’t always because those who have to interpret the technology do on occasion get it wrong, but largely the wrong in officiating has been eradicated because there is the capacity to go back and have another look at something.

Gauzere’s two horror mistakes should never have been made, not at school level and certainly not in a Test match.

It was obvious at the time that he had made mistakes and the consequence of not fixing it immediately meant there were also consequences, to the momentum of the game and ultimately the result.

Wales were gifted two tries and few teams have gone on to lose with that kind of advantage.

England captain Owen Farrell was as muted in his response after the game. What could he say that would change the outcome or reverse the decision? The game was done and the result was already in the archives.

Coaches get fired because of losing and because of a lack of delivery. Playersget axed and lose contract value because of defeats and poor performance.

ALSO READ: Refereeing decisions spark furious debate after Wales win

Yet in the professional age of rugby, referees remain the untouchables.

It is a status quo that can’t be challenged soon enough.

Coaches and players should insist on a referee having to front the media in the same way they have to.

Why must a coach and a player face a grilling about where it went wrong, when a referee escapes such public scrutiny? Why is a referee never called to task to explain a decision, which has such influence on a result?

And why is there invariably no consequence to the career of these referees?

Super Rugby’s bosses, more than a decade ago, introduced a system in which the referee was made available to the media post the match.

It lasted a fortnight because after week two the referees refused to be put in a position to defend their officiating.

The ‘human error’ argument was given as a mitigating defence to any performance.

Referees pleaded innocence based on their integrity being under attack and the perception being created that they cheated or were in any way biased.

ALSO READ: French ref admits blunders during Wales v England

This was a projection from the referee because no one ever suggested any referee was a cheat. The motivation in wanting the referee in the hot seat was to make them accountable for their the officiating.

Soccer players are asking the same thing of referee accountability. So too players in all other sporting codes.

Sport is a business and those who prosper in this business do so because of their excellence.

The converse applies to players and coaches when there is a lack of performance.

Referees don’t get fired but they should be put in the hot seat to get fried; equally to be applauded.

Make them publicly accountable and you can be guaranteed there would be less ‘human error’ in their officiating.

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