What an amazing accomplishment by the All Blacks last week. I don’t profess to know all the rules of rugby, but what I do know is that it is a fantastic game. A ball being moved forwards whilst being passed backwards, coupled with the immense strength and physicality of the players – a stunning spectacle to witness.
But I’m not here to talk about the passion of the HAKA, the jaw-dropping drop kick by Dan Carter, or the fact that New Zealand has achieved the incredible feat of winning the World Cup back-to-back. What I’m actually here to talk about is the behaviour of rugby players. It has been said that rugby is a “hooligans’ game played by gentlemen,” a phrase that perfectly sums up the attitude of everyone on the rugby field. It is the respectful, gentlemanly attitude of some of the world’s most physically dangerous athletes that is truly fantastic to witness.
I think many sports, especially football, could learn a great deal from how rugby players respect officiating. It always disturbs me when I see footballers intimidating referees, getting in their faces and generally showing an acute lack of respect for the individuals who are tasked with managing and regulating the game. And it isn’t just the players – the way some managers behave on the sidelines when talking to the Fourth Official sometimes beggars belief.
The head of Premiership Rugby referees, Ed Morrison, told the BBC that rugby officials are shown more respect than in football because of the tradition of the sport. “In the game that has been handed down to us, the referee is very much respected. His decision-making is accepted. That’s a tradition in rugby. It’s not necessarily been so in football.” So why is this the case?
Over the past few years, football has increasingly shown a culture of players surrounding referees in an attempt to influence decisions. Conversely, rugby is noted for the authority referees possess on the field and conversations between players and officials are broadcast to viewers and spectators. So maybe that’s the answer – should referees have microphones so the fans can clearly hear conversations between players? Would that change the culture?
I have been a rugby fan for over ten years and this World Cup has confirmed my passion for this brilliant sport. Not only the stunning match play and close contests, but also the attitudes of the players and the sportsmanship shown throughout the competition. We need more of this attitude in Premiership football. These footballers are the idols of our children – the people they look up to and imitate. Do we really want them imitating aggressive, disrespectful and intimidating behaviour? Rugby has to set the standard for other sports in this country.