If you drill down to the amateur level or watch youth games, it’s hard to believe that’s the case. The behaviour of fans, coaches and players alike towards what are volunteer match officials - without whom there wouldn’t be a game – falls far short of what could be consider an example for other sports to follow. So where does this type of attitude come from?|
Having sat through last night’s St Helens-Warrington game, I don’t think you have to look too hard to find the answer. While rugby league certainly doesn’t have groups of players pursuing referees around the pitch disputing their decisions, a large part of that is probably because the flow and speed of the game denies players the opportunity to do so. What the sport does seem to have currently however is a generation of players who carry a persecution complex and a cadre of match officials lacking the spine to say enough is enough.
Numerous decisions yesterday – the overwhelming majority of which were correct – were greeted with angry rants in the official’s direction. While not using foul or abusive language, they were as clear a show of dissent as you are ever likely to see on any sports field. The result of this misdirected energy and effort? One warning, on the run, about ten minutes from the end of the game to Adrian Morley as Warrington captain. Not a word in the direction of the likes of Paul Wellens who consistently questioned refereeing decisions throughout the 80 minutes.
Now either Ian Smith has developed selective deafness – after all, he wouldn’t want to lose the opportunity to referee at Knowsley Road again so soon after his unofficial ban was ended – or he considers the behaviour of both sides last night to be acceptable. If the latter is the case then I would suggest his definition of acceptable behaviour and mine are poles apart.
While no-one wants to see games being continually reduced to ten a side with players either sent off or in the bin for improper raising of an eyebrow in the direction of a touch judge the current situation simply isn’t good enough. The attitude and approach of those playing (and officiating) at the top level trickles down the under nines running around on a Sunday morning who idolise these players.
It’s time the RFL stopped issuing mealy mouthed words and campaigns and backed its match officials to take stronger action against dissent and petulance from grown men who should be able to better control their behaviour. I won’t be holding my breath however.