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Enough! Time for refs to be graded

While the Stormers were silenced with a hefty fine for their mire aimed at match officials, I believe that it will be far more difficult for Sanzar’s head of refereeing to muzzle legendary World Cup-winning coach Sir Graham Henry.

In my view, it’s a blessing in disguise that Henry has been bold enough to articulate the frustration that most coaches and players are currently feeling. The reality is that the standard of officiating in this year’s Super Rugby competition has to be called into question.

While coaches and players pay for poor performances by being demoted or removed from the system entirely, I honestly don’t believe there are sufficient consequences for shoddy officiating. Meting out fines or bans for voicing one’s displeasure is a purely punitive measure, which sweeps the real issue underneath the rug.

As we near the defining stage of the Super Rugby season, much is at stake for players and coaches alike and when questionable calls continue to go against a team, frustration naturally builds. All the players and coaches are calling for is consistency from match officials. At this high level of play, officiating should be at an equally elevated standard.

There are so many variables in the oval game and refereeing incompetency cannot be one of them.

So what exactly do coaches want? They are crying out for a system which measures match officials’ performances objectively. I believe the current system employed needs to be overhauled. The reality is that the existing model is far too subjective and only when it becomes evidenced-based will we see tangible results.

What I would propose is a standard template being put in place to grade refereeing performances from a statistical standpoint. Whether you’re a fan, player, coach, analyst or match reviewer, the reality is that no one is neutral. We all have our opinions informed by various factors.

For example, when I see Steve Walsh refereeing to me he seems like a rabbit caught in the headlights and at each scrum I’m never quite sure in which direction his arm will point. What I’m saying to Sanzar is: prove me wrong by providing us with factual data collected.

In medicine, there is a difference between anecdotal evidence, which is subjective and based on a case-by-case scenario and factual evidence based upon numerous case studies. The latter offers a more holistic approach. It puzzles me that officiating is one area of the oval game which remains largely subjective. It’s high time that Sanzar takes a proactive approach regarding this issue.

Time for talking is over, crucial intervention is now needed.

From the standard template which I introduced earlier, match officials would be graded according to a number of key criteria. Namely: the offside at the breakdown, the offside at the kick return, the maul and the sealing off of it, coming in from the side, the engagement at scrumtime, rolling away and not releasing. Referees will then be awarded a percentage based upon their performance.

Say for arguments sake there were 100 breakdowns in a particular match. If a team were not penalised for going offside on 17 occasions then the referee would score 83 percent for offside at the breakdown, which would a sub-standard score. It’s not the penalties that are awarded but rather the ones that aren’t which is killing the game, because those crucial calls free up space for the attacking team to play.

The same principle applies to the defensive breakdown. The referee would be judged on the tackler not rolling and releasing. The system I have suggested, would allow referees to examine their performances and offer them an opportunity to correct their mistakes.

If for example, a referee does not score above 90 percent on regular basis, I would propose that they be demoted to a lower level until they are able to perform on the big stage. If, however, they simply don’t improve, like any other professional they must run the risk of losing their job. The key issue here is that there needs to be a level of accountability.

What we currently lack is a database of factual evidence pertaining to match officials. I would therefore recommend that a website be made available within the public domain where graded performances can be viewed by the various stakeholders. This would make the entire process far more transparent.

If something concrete is not put in place, refereeing performances will remain highly contentious and much-debated.

Why couldn’t someone as experienced as say Jonathan Kaplan pilot such a project? We have an opportunity in South Africa to be pioneers in this regard. With Kaplan’s intellectual capital, I believe we could reinvent the entire refereeing system.

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