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As referees stop officiating and start coaching, the game suffers

I am lucky enough to own a high-end home theatre system. Not the most expensive on the market. Just a decent system that provides the depth of sound I am after while watching excessive amounts of sport.

 

The kids get a great Blu-ray experience from their Avenger films and the sounds of the game always come across crisp and clear.

 

Unfortunately, the system also magnifies the constant ‘coaching’ of players by NRL officials that has reached the point of ridiculousness. This is the constant flow of commands and reminders that goes on throughout every set of six.

 

Last week I did a little research and left the sound system on yet turned off the actual television while rewatching some of the weekends games .

 

My puzzled wife stumbled across her foolish husband; pen in hand, in an unlit room, listening to replays of the weekends matches. I got through about three before midnight loomed.

 

It was fascinating to sit and listen to the comments of the referees and more importantly, the amount of coaching and talking that actually takes place.

 

Aside from the obvious bellows of ‘moooove’ that referees seem to use a couple of times each set, the players were actually instructed on just about every aspect of the game.

 

‘With your foot’, ‘Hold, Hold’ and my favourite ‘break’ all featured consistently. It amazes me that we have referees who, under so much pressure and scrutiny, find time to remind players of some of the most basic rules of the game.

 

Touching the ball with the foot, or at least making an honest attempt to do so, is something players can probably handle themselves. Constant screaming at defensive lines to hold before they launch forward in an effort to maximise line speed isn’t necessary. And telling players when it is permitted to unbind from the scrum (hard to remember a back rower actually being bound in recent years) is ludicrous.

 

Apart from the annoyance caused to the viewer, the greater issue is the impact on the game. Players and referees now enter the playing arena with the intention of forming a ‘relationship’ with each other. Their desire to work together and ‘help’ each other should not be the objective of officials or players.

 

Referring to players by nicknames or initials implies a closeness and popularity that harms the game. It is sad to think that the relationship between official and more celebrated players could in fact alter the decision made on the field. Some say conspiracy theory, others see it as real.

 

Eliminating the casual and friendly manner that referees use to engage and placate players and a return to a more numerical based method of dealing with infringements might just remove some of the perceptions of bias and collaboration levelled at referees.

 

Sadly, those allegations and suggestions have even come from the mouths of coaches in recent years. Calling for investigations into matches does no favours to anyone and automatically suggests collusion and a bias intent behind a controversial decision or a lop sided penalty count.

 

The bizarre antics of Gavin Badger as he rushes in towards each and every play the ball, pointing like a mad man at the ruck area and shouting at players to ‘release’ the tackled player, is frustrating to say the least.

The ‘pocket’ referee is meant to police the ruck area yet when was the last time we saw any of our referee’s consistently police anything? The referees could go a long way towards helping themselves by removing the chatter and starting to rule more ruthlessly on infringements.

 

Some might argue that excessive penalty counts will be the immediate result. This is probably true in the short term. However, shrewd coaches would be all over the change in approach and ensure their squad adapts to the officials interpretations.

 

Unfortunately, it is the officials who have been adapting to the players in recent times; the players grab hold of a particular rule and man handle it to the point at which its enforcement becomes problematic for referees.

 

The ‘grapple’,’chicken wing’ and ‘crusher’ tackles are all good examples and the recent mastery of blocking chasers to high kicks, and the referees ability to ignore it in the most part, is a trend that requires an iron fist not a soft touch.

 

Can you imagine Craig Bellamy or Wayne Bennett allowing their players to continue to concede multiple penalties if referees began to take a more rigid approach to a particular rule?

 

NBA players can be ejected from games for gesturing with open palmed hands and smirking, as if to say, ‘whatever’.

 

It’s that easy, enforce the rule, the players and astute coaches will work out very quickly what they can and can’t do and then look for another area in the game where they might be able to exploit the rule book.

 

The coaches are at the very heart of the issue and that is indeed their job. To maximise the chance of victory through coaching that slows the game down in defence and speeds the game up in attack is what the modern coach does.

 

Let them continue to do that job but referees cannot be seen to be ‘working with’ the tactics employed by the coaches. The officials need to be seen as enforcers of rules and not ‘coaching’ players to stay as close to within the rules as possible in order to prevent the blowing of the whistle.

 

All sports have issues in and around officiating. Interpretation of free kicks in one on one contests in the AFL is wrought with inconsistencies yet at least the umpires are ruthless and firm once decisions are made. Try watching a defender argue with an umpire after a fifty metre penalty is given and a player prepares for an easy shot at goal. The umpire rarely looks the player in the eye. He lets him rant and rave, focuses on the kicker and then proceeds to the next phase of the game.

 

The NRL could take a lot from the style they adopt. Why is it that Netball umpires are supported by an ingrained culture of respect for the officials? They are rarely questioned or even spoken to. Could it be as simple as demanding that respect?

 

Football officiating is wrought with challenges and the mobbing of referees and the pressure that teams are able to build on them is unacceptable. It is different yet similar to the way league players have learnt to manipulate referees; laying in rucks while holding players down and at the same time looking to the referee asking when it’s time to let go is tangible evidence to suggest that the whistle blowers are being made to look foolish.

 

I’m off to the Dogs vs Dragons tonight and hope to see some really hard footy. Those two usually go at each other with some venom.

 

I’ll be sitting on level four on the western side of the ground. Hopefully, I’ll get to have a few drinks, laughs and partake in some quality football banter. The best thing about it will be that I won’t have to listen to a single referee’s voice.

 

Until they go to the bunker that is. Now there’s something to look forward to.

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