No matter what the sport, the referee has arguably the most challenging role and yet somehow receives the least recognition. Of course, each sport can vary but there is an immense amount of pressure enlisted upon the officials in today’s sporting world. The expectations placed on those with the whistle is far and beyond what should be expected of them and in my opinion is having a detrimental effect on their ability to officiate to the best of their abilities. A change in the way we regard referees in sport is needed if we want to see an improvement in the standard of officiating.
To address this issue a fundamental change in the culture of the treatment of referees is needed at the very top level. I would be critical of the likes of Joe Schmidt in his treatment of the officials. Although it is clear that he is only hoping to achieve what is best for his team, his common criticisms that are aimed at referees before and after matches are setting the standards of how Irish sports people view the officials. In the lead up to the shock Japan defeat at the end of last month, Schmidt reminded the media of how the Irish camp were disappointed with Angus Gardner’s refereeing during Ireland’s gruesome defeat in Cardiff in the final game of the Six Nations last March. I personally can’t see how these comments could have had a positive impact on the match that weekend. Was he hoping to impose fear on the Australian ref or increase the pressure on him? I am in no means saying that these comments led to Ireland’s defeat, but they certainly didn’t help. He would never in a press conference question the standard of playing of particular players on his team so why is it any different to the referee? A common misconception in sport is that the referee is a liability to you. This is not the case. The ref’s role is to ensure a safe and fair game of sport is played, but naturally mistakes are only inevitable. From experience in both playing and watching, teams who treat referees with respect often end up on the better hand when it comes to fifty-fifty decisions.
The introduction of technology in professional sport has relieved some weight from the shoulders of the referees, but the nature of technology such as VAR in football means in reality this relief is only slight. Of course, in time it should become the asset the sporting community knows it can be, but the level of uncertainty that is present surrounding decisions (particularly in the case of VAR) has baffled many. Praise must be given to the implementation of the Television Match Official in rugby, which has most certainly made the officials’ lives that much easier and has ensured the correct decision is made more often than not. The absence of a “ref mic” in football (as a result of refs constantly being on the receiving end of verbal abuse from players) have left spectators in the dark when it comes to decision-making and have so led to many criticisms of it. Fans should be mindful of this and give it the time it needs to be implemented; hopefully bringing about the necessary improvements to the standards of officiating in football.
As per usual, it is up to the leaders to implement change. We need to see a change in the treatment of the officials in professional sport if we want to see a change anywhere else; it starts at the top. They earn only a fraction of what the top athletes do and yet often receive the most criticism. When they perform well it is merely seen as what is expected of them, and when they underperform all the fingers are pointed at them. A positive relationship between players and refs alike will undoubtedly make sport more enjoyable for all.
Jack McSharry – Sport Writer