Referee basher? Get out and don’t come back

Mary Konstantopoulos Columnist

By Mary Konstantopoulos, Mary Konstantopoulos is a Roar Expert

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    How many games of rugby league did you watch on the weekend?

    Usually when someone asks me that question, I answer with three or four at least.

    This weekend, I watched one game – the least I have watched in many years. It was only my sheer devotion to the Parramatta Eels that saw me tune in to their game against the Gold Coast Titans on Saturday afternoon.

    So what happened?

    I got to a point this weekend where I just needed a break (and that’s unfortunate because it meant that I missed some cracking games of footy).

    I didn’t need a break from the game that I love, but instead I needed some time away from the ravenous pack of wolves that are particular sectors of rugby league media, intent on doing whatever they can to hurt the game that I grew up with and love so much.

    Last week, Andrew Webster wrote a piece about Matt Cecchin – a man many consider to be the best referee in our game. He is certainly one of our most experienced referees.

    This weekend he refereed his 300th game when he took the field for the game between the Penrith Panthers and the Canberra Raiders.

    Unfortunately, at the end of this year Cecchin will be lost to the NRL because he has had enough and made the decision to retire. I certainly don’t blame him especially when you consider the noise surrounding him this year.

    It all started last year during the Rugby League World Cup when Cecchin and members of his family received death threats following what was perceived to be Cecchin making an incorrect call in the semi-final between Tonga and England last November (its worth noting that Cecchin made the correct call).

    It has continued this year, particularly following a game earlier this year where Cecchin blew 33 penalties and a fight erupted later in the game.

    That article made me sick.

    Matt Cecchin

    Matt Cecchin. (Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)

    When did rugby league fans turn into people like that? When did we turn into people that think it is appropriate in any circumstance to threaten a human being involved in our game because you think they made a wrong call or made an error of judgement?

    When did we forget that referees are human and make mistakes just like the rest of them? When I read that article it was one of the few times I have been ashamed of the game and some of the people that support it.

    To be fair, I don’t blame fans completely for this. I also blame some sectors of the media who use their platforms to whinge and whine about every 50/50 refereeing decision that is made and to hang the referees out to dry whenever they make an incorrect decision. We’ve all seen it on countless occasions.

    And it needs to stop. Because when those with influence in the game carry on like pork chops, it gives other people the licence to do the same and creates a wave of ill sentiment towards our officials.

    Unfortunately, though instead of the media coming out and admitting that they have a role to play in this unfortunate situation we have found ourselves in with officials, we have instead had many members of that pack of wolves come out and wipe their hands clean of the whole mess. They say they are there to commentate on the game.

    Or that they feel sorry for the referees. But then they take every opportunity they can to put the boot in.

    There were few media commentators that I wanted to applaud this week on social media, but one of them was Warren Smith who tweeted that as part of the media he needed to accept his role in contributing to a narrative where referees have become the centre of attention in our game.

    When did we stop commentating and commenting on the actual footy? When did we stop finding joy in the amazing feats of our incredible players? When did some parts of the rugby league media become boring, old, whiny sooks?

    When did plenty of the remainder become former players without media skills or training?

    Michael Jennings is sin binned by referee Matt Cecchin

    Matt Cecchin
    (AAP Image/Action Photographics, Renee McKay)

    It’s not something that I like and it’s something I think that we, as a game need to fix quickly – even if it means revoking media access for some of the old guard and seeing if they can use their large reach to do something positive instead of denigrate the game that puts food on their table.

    Here is what I am committing to.

    I am one voice. But I promise that I will never use that voice to denigrate an official or to carry on like a pork chop when I think an incorrect decision is made. I will also make a better effort to understand the rules of the game, so that rather than taking what commentators say at face value, I can make a decision for myself.

    I also commit to no longer clicking on articles that shame or denigrate referees or contribute to a pack mentality which sees fans given licence to attack a referee.

    I am asking you to do the same. Because our game cannot take place without referees. And if our referees cannot do their job or are fearful about making a decision because of backlash towards them or their families then we will very soon be in a situation where we do not have young men and women putting up their hands to referee our game.

    And if you are someone who thinks that it is appropriate to threaten a referee because of a decision they have made on the field, then I have a really simply message for you – go and don’t come back. Because you aren’t welcome in rugby league.

    Rugby league is a family and I want to be part of a family that supports each other and helps every part of the game to get better. Not part of a family that will lead target our officials just to get a few lousy clicks.

    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 (124)

    • August 6th 2018 @ 7:10am
      Tom said | August 6th 2018 @ 7:10am | ! Report

      I agree that threatening officials is unacceptable but the standard of refereeing in the NRL at the moment is the worst I have seen in my lifetime. I too only watched one game this weekend (Manly), in the past I would watch almost all the games. However, I only watched one game because of the quality of the product the NRL is producing is far inferior to that of the past and the refereeing is a large contributor to that. I don’t blame anyone in particular, rather the system and hope that people don’t stop speaking out about the need for change at that level due to the fear of upsetting the individual referees.

      • August 6th 2018 @ 8:11am
        Bee bee said | August 6th 2018 @ 8:11am | ! Report

        You must be a young whipper snapper Tom. Because the reffing crisis has been going for generations. One huge difference now is any hack can post a rage soaked tweet to the entire universe when a 50/50 call doesn’t go their way.

        • August 6th 2018 @ 9:08am
          Andy said | August 6th 2018 @ 9:08am | ! Report

        • Roar Guru

          August 6th 2018 @ 12:01pm
          Renegade said | August 6th 2018 @ 12:01pm | ! Report

          100%…. social media magnifies this mentality.

          Those that blame the referees always have, they just didn’t have the outlet to voice their opinion like they do now.

        • Roar Guru

          August 6th 2018 @ 2:27pm
          Cadfael said | August 6th 2018 @ 2:27pm | ! Report

          Disagree Bb, yes there will always issues with referees but most times fans accept it. One referee, two touchies and that was it. Things will always be missed. The gripe over the last few years is that we have two refs, two touchies and the Bunker and they are making worse mistakes now than in the old days.

          • August 6th 2018 @ 6:36pm
            Max Danger said | August 6th 2018 @ 6:36pm | ! Report

            no they are not

      • Roar Rookie

        August 6th 2018 @ 9:17am
        Tim Carter said | August 6th 2018 @ 9:17am | ! Report

        You are the problem.

      • August 6th 2018 @ 10:06am
        Concerned Observer said | August 6th 2018 @ 10:06am | ! Report

        Good point Tom, I’m only 23 but I remember back in the good old days of some time before I was alive when referees just directed the game and “let it flow” by just blowing all the penalties they could in ten minutes then letting the game open up or something along those lines… definitely always worked, and it was the best system ever made

        Not like now, with all those “training pathways” or “experience” or “professionalism” The standard truly has hit rock bottom. My, when my Cowboys lose a game it’s not our utterly directionless attack, abysmal defence and lack of depth which we’re only just now adapting and overcoming; it’s that evil villain, old what’s his name, the ref that cost us. Same with Canberra, Manly and all those games where they “handed” the game to the Broncos.

      • Columnist

        August 6th 2018 @ 12:35pm
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | August 6th 2018 @ 12:35pm | ! Report

        Tom, I don’t think refereeing is any worse than it has been in the past. We have to remember that the game has changed and as fans we have the benefit of multiple different camera angles. That magnifies any potential error made. I just don’t believe that we are in a refereeing crisis like is being made out in some parts of the media.

        • August 6th 2018 @ 2:24pm
          Tom said | August 6th 2018 @ 2:24pm | ! Report

          You may be right. Certainly, the game was a lot easier to referee 12 years ago before teams employed wrestling coaches to help them find manoeuvres to slow the game down to their advantage. This in turn created the need for a second referee and training in how to police the evolution of these techniques. It’s got to the point where the referees have too much on their plate. That said, I believe the referees have to do better if the NRL wants to remain relevant. It will become as stop-start as rugby union and the road we are travelling down is hard to come back from. Protect the individual referees, but do not protect the game’s administrators and the decisions they make in regards to the way the game is refereed.

    • Roar Guru

      August 6th 2018 @ 8:16am
      BA Sports said | August 6th 2018 @ 8:16am | ! Report

      I did manage to watch 5 games and listen tot the rest on radio in transit from those games. I did get home just in time to see the Panthers last try which 2 hours earlier was (correctly IMO) called interference but that is for another day.

      I want to give a wrap to Henry P for his handling of the Cronulla v Manly game. I thought he did really well and he handled Gallen and his illogical complaints well. In particular when Gallen whinged about Lewis (a habitual offside offender) being penalised for being inside the 10. When Gallen complained that Lewis was on the other side of the field to the play the ball and therefore not interfering in the play, Perenara snorted with derision and pointed out to Gallen that Lewis in fact made the tackle! If he had binned Gallen at that moment for stupidity I would have been ok with it.

      He also handled a moment when Manly were getting a warning well. HP was walking back to the tryline telling DCE it was not a time to discuss and DCE walked toward the 10m line to deliberately stop play and Perenara ignored his effort and said we are in position to go, forcing DCE to run back to his defensive position.

      • Columnist

        August 6th 2018 @ 12:37pm
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | August 6th 2018 @ 12:37pm | ! Report

        Good shout, BA Sports. As you know I didn’t watch this game and it’s great to see a referee being praised for their performance on the field.

    • August 6th 2018 @ 8:20am
      Paul said | August 6th 2018 @ 8:20am | ! Report

      I applaud the stance you are taking Mary and hope others consider your views and follow suit. Warren Smith is not one of the real ref muck rakers but he’s still had his moments this year. The tweet he wrote seems to indicate he’ll change his stance – I hope he does, but remain to be convinced, because it’s so hard to change a habit of complaining.

      I’ve said it in other posts but the NRL needs to follow the lead of American sports who allow commentary on contentious decisions, but all out abuse of refs or over analysing is left to the bobblehead shows that are on pre & post game. This allows people to have their say, but allows others like me to make a choice about watching or not. Some rules around commentary and some penalties of the rules are broken would be a good start.

    • August 6th 2018 @ 8:27am
      E-Meter said | August 6th 2018 @ 8:27am | ! Report

      I’ve been following the Eels since I was kid in the late 70s and I can remember Jack Gibson trying to get Greg Hartley banned from refereeing Parra games. I think he may also have tried to have John Gocher banned. The refs were still given heaps back then. I’m sure the same has been happening since 1908. It’s just that the coverage is so concentrated now, that’s it easier to see a whole round of stuff ups rather than just the Saturday ABC match of the day and the delayed telecast on Sunday evening.

    • August 6th 2018 @ 8:32am
      Andy said | August 6th 2018 @ 8:32am | ! Report

      Mary, I couldn’t agree more, so much of the hysteria comes from fans with a poor grasp of the actual rules, especially on forward passes, jumping on board the band wagon created by some in the media who should know better and who have their own agendas. Yes the referees make mistakes, just like the players do, sometimes at critical points in the game, just like the players do. But they make far less of them than the players do, but for some reason face far more criticism than players do, ridiculous!

      Seeing as there is coverage of the latest player poll, it’s is worth noting that back in 1987 players said that the two biggest changes they’d make to game is to use video technology and 2 refs on field, so clearly refereeing is always an issue with the players and will never be perfect. Given many sports seem to be grappling with referee/umpire crises maybe the problem is with us/society and not them.

      On Warren Smith, he’s been running his twitter tirade against ref bashing for most of the season, yes he only stated he’s part of the problem this week. I think there is place to say “they got that one wrong”, but there is a big difference in saying that and carrying on like a pork chop.

      The other issue I hate is how people compare a low penalty count origin game to club games, here’s a thought maybe the Origin game looks so good and has a low penalty count because, oh, the best players in the game are playing in it, vs a mix of great and just plain ordinary in club games.

      • Roar Guru

        August 6th 2018 @ 8:58am
        Adam said | August 6th 2018 @ 8:58am | ! Report

        I think the Badger said as much on Mary K’s podcast. That SSO has so few penalties because the players are all top shelf so can play at a higher pace for longer without having to resort to slowing tactics or cutting corners.

        • August 6th 2018 @ 9:12am
          Andy said | August 6th 2018 @ 9:12am | ! Report

          Yeah, And I think I cheered when he said that on the podcast, as I’ve long made this argument to my NRL loving friends and colleagues.

        • Columnist

          August 6th 2018 @ 12:38pm
          Mary Konstantopoulos said | August 6th 2018 @ 12:38pm | ! Report

          Exactly what they said – thanks for listening, Adam!

    • August 6th 2018 @ 8:35am
      AGO74 said | August 6th 2018 @ 8:35am | ! Report

      Two great games of footy yesterday but if you listen to the media the refs had an influence in the final result.

      You have idiots like Steve Roach saying that The two Cronulla no tries should’ve been awarded even when they clearly not meet the allowed rules (Separately can Fox sports please sack Steve Roach – Was the employed just became to placate angry baby boomers I want to whinge about everything ?!).

      Then the Canberra Penrith game where a Penrith try looked to have a forward pass . The try allowed Penrith to take the lead for the first time . Media want to focus on this rather than 40 points conceded or the 16 point lead given up by Canberra.

      Fortunately in above both coaches Took ownership of the results despite leading questions by the media. But I think you can see my point on the way the media drives this and then helps it to fester in the general footy community .

      • August 6th 2018 @ 10:11am
        Tom said | August 6th 2018 @ 10:11am | ! Report

        Yeah Blocker’s comments were baffling. It has been consistent all year that if you catch the ball on the inside of the lead runner, it’s obstruction. If you don’t like the rule, that’s one thing, but it is ridiculous to criticise the referees for enforcing the law. Obstruction has always been fairly contentious, and I think the rule as it stands is reasonable insofar as it makes it about as black and white as it ever will be.

        On Canberra, surely the sheer number of 4th quarter leads they have given up should indicate that they, and not the referees, are the issue…

        • August 6th 2018 @ 5:37pm
          Doc79 said | August 6th 2018 @ 5:37pm | ! Report

          So you’re suggesting on previous form the Raiders deserve to have the rules applied accordingly? 300 games as a referee and Chechin misses a forward like that (I admit he has a ‘supporting’ cast.) While I’ve lost count this year where accidental high contact (Rapana charge down) has been let go or deemed as such after long stoppages. No wonder Mary and others cannot bear watching more than one game- the rules are rewritten between games.

          • August 6th 2018 @ 5:50pm
            Tom said | August 6th 2018 @ 5:50pm | ! Report

            That’s not what I said at all. Even if you take away that try, the Raiders still gave up 34 points – you will lose the vast majority of games where you give up 34 points. Should the touchy have picked that pass up? Probably. But hauling the refs over the coals for one decision is absurd considering the errors Canberra made – and for once, Ricky behaved reasonably and didn’t blame them in the presser. I only watched the last 20 minutes of the game, but I dare say Canberra would have got a few rub of the green decisions elsewhere in the game – we shouldn’t judge errors more or less harshly because of what point in the game they are made.

            No sport has error free refereeing – I pointed out in another comment that I have seen controversial decisions in sports like cycling and athletics that have nowhere near the level of subjectivity that league does. Of all the sports I watch, league is the only one I have heard officials getting death threats for on field decisions.

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