Rugby can show Football a new way

Rugby is not without its problems; the scrum is a mess, the breakdown not a whole lot better. In the wake of the Mark Clattenburg affair though, rugby has demonstrated that it can teach football a few things.

For those that do not know, Mark Clattenburg is the football referee who officiated the Chelsea v Manchester United game this weekend. Clattenburg sent off two Chelsea players, one correctly for a foul, one dubiously for diving, and allowed a Manchester offside goal to stand.

Following the game Clattenburg was accused of using ‘inappropriate language’ to two Chelsea players, allegedly calling Jon Obi Mikel a ’monkey’ and Juan Mata a ‘Spanish t**t’. Chelsea have now dropped the Mata accusation.

Clattenburg is understood to completely deny the allegations, and it appears that assistants are quite happy to support him on that. The assistants are likely to be key to the outcome as they were linked via microphone to Clattenburg and so could hear everything he said throughout the game.

As such, many have now queried why the microphones are not recorded, with many going further and saying that football should use reflink as rugby does, where the spectators and TV can hear the referee’s microphone.

Now, Clattenburg may or may not have said these things, but what is not in doubt is that the only reason he would have is because of the hounding he received from the Chelsea players following his decisions.

Reflink would help us solve which party is telling the truth, but coupled with some of rugby’s other laws and etiquettes, it would also stop the abuse of officials that led to the alleged incident.

Here then in my four point plan to cut out the abuse of officials to make it a better game for all:

1. Make the referee’s microphone open and live. The only argument against it appears to be that the ‘public’ will be shocked by what they hear. Good. A shocked and angry public and media will force an attitude shift from players. It will be messy for a few weeks, but will bring long term good.

2. Instruct referee’s to strictly officiate abusive behaviour. If a player swears at the referee, or even questions a decision – book him. The referee’s decision is final. If players start getting booked and sent off for showing any form of dissent, managers will soon stop them. If you have a problem with a decision, go to the captain and let him speak to the referee.

3. Introduce retrospective punishment. It is absurd that a referee’s decision cannot be overruled following a game. Players should be able to be booked/sent off following a citing, as in rugby. Equally there should be the possibility of yellow and red cards being rescinded.

4. Bring in technology for goodness sake! Goal line technology is easy and there is no reason for it not to be used. I would go further, allow managers two ‘challenges’ per game, similar to he referral system in cricket. Players will soon stop hounding referees if it is clear that they don’t actually rate a decision as controversial enough to actually challenge. The argument against is that it will disrupt the flow of the game, but so does waiting for 5 minutes before a penalty while everyone rants at the ref.

The combination of these points would create a scenario where abusive behaviour from players and a lack of respect towards the referee would not be tolerated by the public, the media or their managers. It would take the pressure off the referee to get every decision absolutely right and it would create a fairer, more enjoyable game that is a better spectacle for all.

One person or another has made many of these points individually over the last few days, and often the response is ‘you rugby people are so arrogant, assuming your sport is leading the way’.

Whilst I can understand their view, they are missing the point – rugby has many faults, it acknowledges most of them though, and what nobody can deny is that one of rugby’s greatest strengths is the respect between players and officials.

By using these four points football can create an environment where these abuse of officials is greatly reduced, if not eradicated altogether, providing a better game and spectacle for everyone.

I have often heard the excuse for footballers behaviour: ‘Football is a passionate game, players cannot help but get angry when they have such passion.’ Well frankly that is ridiculous, rugby is as passionate a game as there is. Indeed passion is so integral to rugby that it can be considered dangerous when players play with insufficient levels of passion and aggression.

Now sometimes that boils over, brawls are not uncommon on a rugby pitch and are unacceptable, however deference to the referee and a respect for his decision are always on show.

Football has a chance to make a change here; it needs to take it. The casual fan is being turned away; we in the rugby community should be leading the way in showing football the way forward.

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