In defence of referees

Mary Konstantopoulos Columnist

By Mary Konstantopoulos, Mary Konstantopoulos is a Roar Expert


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    I have a friend. Let’s call him John.

    John was brought up in a family that loves rugby league. When he was younger, he played footy, mainly on the wing because he was very quick. He even managed to score his fair share of tries.

    But as he got older, John was no longer as interested in playing footy, he wanted to be involved in the game in a different way.

    So he traded having the footy in his hand to having a whistle in his hand and decided to try his hand at refereeing instead.

    Refereeing is a passion that John has had for over a decade now. Slowly but surely, John has moved his way up through the refereeing ranks with plenty of hard work and determination. Refereeing is about a lot more than just understanding some very complicated rules. It also requires high levels of fitness, commitment and also means you give up plenty of weekends.

    Here’s the thing about John though. He is a good referee. So good in fact that he is now refereeing in New South Wales Cup.

    John could potentially progress further and be a first-grade referee down the track, but has made a decision that he does not want to and that he is happy to remain in New South Wales Cup.

    And how can you possibly blame him?

    This year, referees have been under constant scrutiny. They have been the most consistent talking point and have been subjected to the most criticism across the board.

    Matt Cecchin

    (Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)

    I would say that this constant focus and harassment is beginning to border on bullying and with the personal vendetta that some fans and influential media commentators have against referees, why on earth would you want to be one.

    We’ve seen it flair up again this weekend and for me, it’s getting to a point where it is exceptionally embarrassing.

    Peter Sterling said on Triple M on the weekend that “the game is harder to watch as a spectator as it has ever been.”

    That article also quoted the high number of penalties being blown per game (approximately 18/19) and looked to blame referees for that.

    There was no mention of the players that are behaving in a way that is contrary to the rules, putting referees in a position where they need to blow a penalty.

    On Channel 9, there was also discussion following the games on Friday night.

    Paul Vautin suggested that the referees were “out of touch.” Then it was that the referees don’t have an understanding of the effort that the players put in (do the commentators have an understanding of how much effort the referees put in?).

    Later in the same segment it was acknowledged that the number of penalties aren’t the referees fault, but instead it is because of the direction they are being given from up top.

    I’m confused.

    But it continued.

    Andrew Johns then made a comment about referees blowing penalties that really should be let go because they do not have any influence on direct play.

    I question whether this would add another level of complexity to an already complex job with referees being placed in a position where they need to make a call about when an infringement is having a direct impact on play and when it is not (and then would allow other players to do the incorrect thing, just because they aren’t directly involved in play).

    Then there were further tweets from journalists lamenting that referees were destroying the game.

    For some journalists, this seems to be a fun game at the moment and it’s becoming exceptionally tired, boring and predictable.

    Gerard Sutton

    (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

    So who is to blame here? Is it the referees? Or is it the people giving them the instructions? Or is it the players that continue to do the wrong thing and give away penalties?

    I would say it is the latter and interestingly, we don’t see targeted harassment of particular players that give away plenty of penalties, just the odd article here or there.

    Now I don’t know about any of you, but I have enjoyed this year of footy more than any other in recent years (keep in mind that my team is at the bottom of the ladder too).

    For the first time in many years, we are seeing a different type of top eight featuring some new teams like the New Zealand Warriors, South Sydney Rabbitohs and the St George Illawarra Dragons.

    We have seen the emergence of some fresh talent including Viliame Kikau, Kalyn Ponga, Victor Radley and Jamaayne Isaako.

    We have seen some players return to form like John Sutton and Greg Inglis and have also watched some teams that we thought would be in the finals, collapse, like the Parramatta Eels and the North Queensland Cowboys.

    I’ve also really relished seeing an increased use of the sin bin and have also really enjoyed watching referees crack down on players and teams that have repeated infringements.

    I find it incredible that there are some people in the media who profess to love the game, but who do little other than complain about it.

    Referees are always going to make some wrong calls. They are human. Just like our players make errors.

    The very obvious impact of all this dribble about how referees are ruining the game is that it alienates and upsets fans. It has already started to.

    I’ve noticed particularly on Twitter that more and more fans are beginning to call out journalists who unfairly harass referees and are getting very tired of the same old narrative that some very stale journalists are trying to spin.

    But a less obvious consequence, and potentially a more dangerous one, is that this inappropriate level of harassment is potentially discouraging the next generation of referees from coming through.

    Being a referee has never been a popular gig, but the way we’re heading now, I wonder why anyone would put their hand up for the job in the first place.

    Mary Konstantopoulos
    Mary Konstantopoulos

    Mary Konstantopoulos is a lawyer, sports advocate and proud owner and founder of the Ladies Who empire, including Ladies who League, Ladies who Legspin, Ladies who Lineout and Ladies who Leap. You can find her podcast on iTunes and find her on Twitter @mary__kaye and @ladieswholeague.

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    The Crowd Says (57)

    • Roar Guru

      June 11th 2018 @ 7:48am
      Dutski said | June 11th 2018 @ 7:48am | ! Report

      Spot on Mary. The constant bleating about the referees is super tiresome. The players infringe, the referee enforces the rules and blows the penalty, the referee is to blame. What?
      I respect Sterlo big time, but this one he has wrong. I’m enjoying the football more than ever. These same commentators who are bemoaning the referees have completely missed that they themselves are no longer talking about “winning the ruck” or about the deliberate penalties concerned so teams can reset their line.
      I seem to be in the minority though. Most people seem to be looking for a reason to stick it to the referees.

      • Columnist

        June 12th 2018 @ 9:01am
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | June 12th 2018 @ 9:01am | ! Report

        Dutski, thanks for your comment! I actually think we are in the majority… the minority just seems to be making A LOT of noise at the moment.

    • June 11th 2018 @ 8:18am
      Paul said | June 11th 2018 @ 8:18am | ! Report

      Completely agree Mary. The refs in yesterdays Storm/Broncos game called plenty of penalties – because they were there. It did not detract from what was a very entertaining game of football. Sure, I would have liked to have seen less penalties, but that was up to the players.

      The one really noticeable thing about this years comp, is how stupid the commentators are becoming. Fatty’s comment about refs being “out of touch” comes form a bloke who hasn’t played serious footy for nearly 30 years. He and Andrew Johns, Gus Gould et al should stick to what they do best, losing at the TAB and get some decent commentators in who know what they’re talking about. The same goes for the so called journalists who think they know what the public wants from the refs.

      I for one hope this ref direction continues and is enhanced next year. There are still way too many forward passes NOT being called. Still, it’s small steps in the right direction.

      • June 11th 2018 @ 12:45pm
        jewboy said | June 11th 2018 @ 12:45pm | ! Report

        ‘….get some decent commentators in who know what they are taking about ‘….I would be interested in who you would suggest Paul.

        IMO the three guys you mentioned Gus, Sterlo ,Fatty and throw in Ray Warren would know more about the game than most of us put together…. they have played , lived and breathed the game for most of their lives, and like all of us …including referees…we are not always right but to say they don’t know what they are talking about is a big call

        I must admit at the start of the season I was a ‘beliver’ of the new approach by the referees to clean up the game but now over time I’m not too sure.
        It’s just too simple to say that the players are at fault and the referees are just doing their job….the rules are there in”black and white”…but.the words that are missing are ‘common sense’ and ‘consistency’ should prevail at all times.

        The better referees have have these qualities… common sense and consistency ..then we have the others who ‘nit pick’ and fire from the hip.

        So IMO until we have consistency from the referees and co-operation from the players we will continue to have a stop start game which some appear to like and others dislike.


        • June 11th 2018 @ 4:32pm
          Paul said | June 11th 2018 @ 4:32pm | ! Report

          I much prefer to listen to the Fox guys and think the NZ guys are pretty good as well. Are they perfect, not by any means, but they are easier on the ear and way less strident about issues.

          The quality of commenting by Channel 9 was summed up by Gould’s comments prior to the referee making a decision about the Mitchell no-try. He was utterly convinced he was right and there was no way he was going to change his mind…… till the cameras clearly showed Mitchell didn’t ground the ball. What did Gould do – said nothing for the next 5 minutes because everyone knew he’d made a goose of himself.

          All of the Channel 9 guys have the same disease – they really believe every word that come out of their mouth about Rugby League (including the denigration of referees) just has to be right. Sure they played the game at levels I could only dream of, but that doesn’t make their opinion valid if they’re living in the past or set in their ways. Most of these blokes are exactly that and they do nothing to enhance the game, which should be their role

          • June 11th 2018 @ 6:05pm
            jewboy said | June 11th 2018 @ 6:05pm | ! Report

            Mmmm….have to say I’ve heard the boys on Fox criticize the referees at times and get it wrong.
            Think they all might be tarred with the same brush but just wear different hats Paul….be a boring old world if everone agreed with each other all the time.

    • June 11th 2018 @ 8:35am
      Forty Twenty said | June 11th 2018 @ 8:35am | ! Report

      I don’t believe the way Sterling is speaking about the issue is out of order at all. He raises an issue worthy of discussion in that he and many others believed the way that the SOO was officiated was much better than the way club games are being officiated.

      Why shouldn’t he express this opinion? He and the other panelists seem sure that the refs adopted a different role in this game despite being told it would be no different to club games. There were no penalties for 50 odd minutes I believe which seems to back up the panel that refs can ignore infringements which aren’t affecting the play.

      I seem to recall someone pointing out where the rules actually say that. I could be wrong.

      The idea that the refs should penalise every infringement they see is nonsense despite what many are saying on the issue and therefore game management is part of the issue.

      Even with the high penalty counts at club level they could find a lot more. Nobody takes the penalty kick for line on the spot, line drop outs are usually over the line, scrums are never fed correctly and you could often penalise markers for not being exactly square.

      I’m enjoying the season also but I also believe all aspects of the game are open for discussion. The lack of consistency with forward passes is a big issue for me and I’m sure something needs to be done.

      • June 11th 2018 @ 8:51am
        Paul said | June 11th 2018 @ 8:51am | ! Report

        The issue Sterling raised was put to Kevin Walters during the Broncos game and he felt the refs still made similar decisions in SOO 1. He said for example that “maybe the 34 players were trying extra hard to get back onside”. In any event, he thought the game was reffed in similar fashion to a Club game, which must hold some weight coming from the Qld coach

        • June 11th 2018 @ 9:28am
          Albo said | June 11th 2018 @ 9:28am | ! Report

          And that is why the penalty clamp down has become a joke ! The officials & coaches pretend it is the same for all matches when it patently is not , and it has been left to the whim of the officials as to whether they will blow a bunch of penalties or not ? The referees are still game managing not officiating on the rules except when it takes their fancy. In SOO1 despite what Kevvie says, both sides were offside all night and yet very few penalties were blown ? The coaches and players have outlasted the referees directed campaign, with penalty counts gradually reducing now, but this just leaves the whole inconsistency issue for fans and journos to whinge about. Same as last year but with extra penalties and stoppages.

      • Columnist

        June 12th 2018 @ 9:43am
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | June 12th 2018 @ 9:43am | ! Report

        Forty Twenty, Sterlo is absolutely entitled to his opinion and TBH he is not one of those commentators that seems to talk about the referees all the time.

        I more highlighted his comment because I fundamentally disagree with it – I am thoroughly enjoying this season, but of course that is only my view. 🙂

    • June 11th 2018 @ 8:43am
      Mike Gordon said | June 11th 2018 @ 8:43am | ! Report

      Totally agree, Mary. So sad to hear Sterlo getting on the ref bashing bandwagon. Earlier in the year I got the impression he was supporting the refs decisions. I guess it’s contagious.
      I love Joey’s analytics but I’m embarrassed for him and co when they carry on and on and on about the refs like 9 year olds.
      It was refreshing to watch the wallabies v Ireland game and not hear any whinging about the ref.

      • June 11th 2018 @ 8:58am
        Stu said | June 11th 2018 @ 8:58am | ! Report

        If you read the comments after there was plently of whinging.

        Rugby fans think NRL is officiated better. League fans think Union is officiated better…

        • June 11th 2018 @ 9:22am
          Mike Gordon said | June 11th 2018 @ 9:22am | ! Report

          I was referring to the commentary on tv, not the refereeing itself. Usually they do voice descent but I can’t recall any on Saturday night. Maybe it was a policy not to in light of the embarrassing carryons at Ch 9.

    • June 11th 2018 @ 8:57am
      Stu said | June 11th 2018 @ 8:57am | ! Report

      Do fans/commentators/journalists want consistency or are they happy to have referees who use different interpretations of the rules?

      Consistency gives you Black and White (whats happening now).

      Interpretation gives you Grey (previously someone complaining that Perenara and Cecchin interpret rules differently).

      Unfortunatley half want one and the other half the other.

    • June 11th 2018 @ 9:07am
      kk said | June 11th 2018 @ 9:07am | ! Report

      Mary, Would you consider that a revision of the Rule Book is overdue.

      The Hand on Ball, Strip, High tackle, Knock on, Forward pass, Offside
      and Play the Ball rules need simplification and/or modification so that
      consistent application by referees is made easier.

      The pace of the modern game is incredible,yet player error reached
      157 for Round 14 with a game to go. There are some rules which are
      not necessary. Example: Roll the Ball/ Tunnel Ball is far easier than
      than the current rule without detracting from the skills of the game.
      It may also help those players we hope to attract from Rugby Union.