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Don’t blame the referee

Alastair Payne, left, is Wai-Bush’s leading referee and has controlled the past six premier finals. PHOTO/FILE

Refs: You can’t be without them

Most weeks when I’m garnering information for the reviews on the sporting weekend, someone, almost without fail, will bring up the referees.

“We played against 16”, “the ref lost control”, “he was too happy with the cards”, “the ref wasn’t tough enough, and he let them get away with murder”, “he was too friendly with the opposition”, “he couldn’t keep up with play”.

Those are just a small sample of some of the comments I often hear.

No doubt among those, there are some legitimate gripes, and hopefully, coaches, officials, and the assessors/trainers can bang their heads together to iron out the issues.

However, the reality is that referees or umpires are very rarely responsible for the outcome of a game, despite coaches or players telling you otherwise.

The football referee did not go into a tackle with his studs showing, taking out an opposition player at shin height and warranting a red card.

Neither did he abuse the player who he has just issued a yellow card.

Yes, it might have been a bit harsh, but it was his interpretation, and it does not deserve a mouthful of expletive-laden abuse.

The rugby referee is not the one deliberately slowing the ball down or releasing the tackled player. Neither is he the prop scrummaging illegally or the player coming in with the high tackle.

Of all the codes, the referees I sympathise most with are the rugby whistlers, who must grasp a complex set of laws thoroughly and then the ever-changing interpretations moving the goalposts.

By no means am I suggesting that officials aren’t immune to criticism.

Officials, particularly in the winter codes, can severely impact the flow of a game.

The fit, experienced, relaxed referee is likely to have a better feel for the game and let it flow more. In contrast, there are others who lack fitness, player-management skills, or like being in control – which can lead to over-pedantic rulings, regular stoppages, and an ordinary spectacle for the sideline supporters.

And when I hear a rumour that two referees are having a competition to see who can issue the most yellow and red cards throughout the season, I cringe and wonder what the heck are they out there for – the good of the game or their own gratification?

I think after umpiring cricket at representative level for 20 years, I have some qualification on what makes a good official.

They shouldn’t be noticed until action is required.

Whether it’s a yellow card for a dangerous tackle, giving a player out in cricket, dealing with dissent, sin-binning a player for a professional foul, it is done in a confident, composed manner, and then play continues.

But when they must make crucial decisions – a penalty in front of the posts in the last minute; the LBW off the last ball; the cynical foul inside the box or circle – they do not shy away from that responsibility.

Referees make mistakes, but not deliberately, and they call it as they see it at that instant, without the benefit of any replay.

Whatever your sport – rugby, football, hockey, netball, cricket, softball – officiating is a thankless task, but your game is much better with them than without them.

Remember, referees do not win or lose games. Players do.

So don’t blame the ref. Be thankful you have one because without them, you don’t have a game.

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