Tuesday, July 03, 2018

On Players and Officials

You may have seen this series of images. It's appeared on Twitter and Facebook, posted usually by rugby fans, but not exclusively.

It's a bit disingenuous, in my opinion, to use this particular set of images to highlight the differences between player-offical relationships in the two sports. We all know that footballers surround the referee and argue and abuse the officials over decisions. And yes, rugby is different. Players know that there are sanctions that will be applied if they argue or suggest the referee isn't doing their job properly or fairly. Not so in football. Perhaps that's part of the problem.

My issue with the pictures is that I'm pretty sure Chris Robshaw, for example, isn't shaking Nigel Owens hand because he's just given a decision against England, and that Cristiano Ronaldo isn't arguing with the referee because the game has finished. So we have two different contexts, and setting them against each other doesn't help the argument that there needs to be more respect and self-discipline in football, and that it could learn from rugby.

But rugby is far from pure and saintly. Let's not forget that. More worryingly is that some players are beginning to adopt the worst traits of football when it comes to their relationship with officials.

Something else that needs discussing and addressing is not just the question of role models and how the antics of high profile footballers impacts younger players, but what those younger plays are being taught. Martin Keown was talking some time ago on the BBC about being coached to surround the referee and one wonders whether young players are taught to throw themselves to the ground at the slightest of contacts in order to win penalties and free kicks. Surely such play-acting should never be coached.

VAR ought to be helping officials make better decisions, but it also ought to be letting players know that they will be seen and sanctioned for their actions. It might mean a lot more yellow and red cards are shown for a while, but in the end perhaps some of the simulation we've seen and some of the hostility too will be removed from the game. Perhaps, if a player is guilty of abusing an official or diving or some other form of attempted deception, then it's not they that should spend 10 minutes off the field in a "sin-bin" style approach, but their team's goalkeeper. It might make them think twice about shouting into the face of a referee or rolling around in agony when accidentally stepped on by an opponent (mentioning no names of expensive Brazilian talent).

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