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Monday, December 19, 2005


Discussions: Time to blow whistle on babbling referees

By: Stephen Jones

Other Categories: Other Tournaments.

NIGEL OWENS, the leading Welsh referee, annoyed many people on Friday night. He was in charge of the superb Toulouse-Edinburgh Heineken Cup match and in passing, it must be said that he refereed extremely well. But lately, as part of disquiet from supporters everywhere, we have had many letters from readers complaining about the torrent of voice-over from referees, audible over the television coverage. This clearly, and understandably, aggravates the armchair legions.

Owens’s vocal delivery overlaid on the soundtrack of the match coverage from Toulouse came across as that of a profoundly persistent and annoying parrot. Poor chap, it is unfair to single him out. It seems that every referee in professional rugby now spends the full 80 minutes dispensing ceaseless babbling, warnings, explanations, debates and even jokes. If you are watching at the ground, you can escape by not buying one of the little gadgets on which you can catch the babble. But if you are watching on television and unless you want to watch in dead silence, then you are stuck with it.

Why the growth of the gab? It comes under the heading of preventative refereeing. Originally, it was well-intentioned. In its simplest form, the theory is that if a player looks like getting offside or if he has failed to release the ball (and so on), then the referee should give him a verbal warning so that he desists and the match continues without the offence.

But recently, this theory has fallen down disastrously on too many fronts. First, the number of offences is not appreciably less, so it has failed. Second, preventative refereeing is having the opposite effect. Effectively, players are now given two chances to escape. They are given the original warning by the referee, and they then have a second chance to decide whether to continue with their skulduggery. Indeed, you now hear players complaining, after being whistled, that the referee did not tell them he was about to penalise them. The babble is a cheats’ charter. It is also appallingly unfair if one team speaks the language of the referee and the other does not, so they cannot even benefit from the babble.

Referees also deem themselves compelled to explain every decision on the hoof, as the old respect for the referee disintegrates into prolonged and often hostile debate and appealing.

It is disfiguring the game. Let’s go back to dead silence, to referees making decisions out of the blue. No warning. Let’s go back to zero tolerance and only one chance to escape. The people who make the gadgets would lose a market, but the game would gain a resounding silence. Let’s give the viewers an escape from the dread parrot.

davids is a closet WP supporter!!!  
Very topical thread that should have lead to some comments.
IMO the referees' babbling got completely out of hand and irritating.
They should stick to their handsigns - including the signal when the line-out is over - and limit their advice to players to calling when it has become a ruck.
That's it.
Handsigns contributes to a spectator's enjoyment and understanding.
Actually Max Baise was the first ref - SA ref at least - who started handsigns. This was late 60's and early 70's. He was ridiculed, but stuck to it.
Some little time ago the NZRU said that the Refs wanted to share in the game - they didn't want to be just Refs, they wanted to be "part of the entertainment". And now they are. They spend more time keeping the game "flowing" than they do policing the rules.

Personally I would much prefer to not hear them say a word, and whistle the game according to the 179 page rule-book.

However, if we get back to that, we shall also have to then teach the players the rules, because almost none of them know any of the rules. Perhaps we should select 10 senior players at random and give them a 25 question list to explain the rules - jeeeeeeeez, it would be a disaster,

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