Rugby League Expert & Columnist
Phil Clarke says Super League referees being undermined
Last Updated: 14/09/17 7:54am
Phil Clarke takes a closer look at the video refereeing system in place in Super League, arguing referees are being undermined.
Refereeing a rugby league game is becoming ridiculously hard. I have nothing but sympathy and respect for the men and women who carry a whistle and allow so many people to play and watch the game they love.
For some time now I've been worried though that we're making it even more difficult and I'm concerned about the long-term consequences.
When you watch a game on TV it is easy to see some of the mistakes that the referee makes and in many ways, I fear that we are undermining the authority of the man in the middle even more when the video referee intervenes in non-try scoring situations.
It is a serious issue that the game needs to discuss openly and there are two extremes that I would like you to consider.
1. Allow the video referee to help the on-field referee at all times. Allow replays for all incidents. Stop the game to double check and review.
2. Accept that the referee and touch judges will make mistakes and allow live uninterrupted coverage without a video referee/action replays.
Neither option is perfect. The problem for me is that we're slowly moving from the latter to the former.
Most team sports like rugby, football and cricket survived for around 100 years as professional games without the assistance of a video referee until about 20 years ago when the advance of technology, backed by some innovative people, saw the video referee introduced to rugby league, rugby union, cricket and, more recently, football.
The initial idea in the 13-a-side code was to use an action replay to help determine if a try had been scored or not.
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I suppose that we opened 'Pandora's Rugby Ball' when we innocently allowed the video referee to check if a try had been scored.
None of us appreciated the far reaching and potentially negative consequences of what this might do to the on-field referee.
We thought we could prevent human error and get the right decision, which it often does when it comes to a try, but it's planted a seed in our minds that we can eradicate the referees' mistakes.
Imagine how you would feel if you were the referee, making the big decisions in a game, and everyone else knew that you'd just got it wrong. Surely you would want a second look at an incident that happens if you knew that you'd got a massive call completely wrong?
What would it do to your confidence? It is as if you're partially blind-folded and they all have perfect vision. It seemed to make perfect sense to show the potential try again and check.
So, if you let the referee take a 'second look' how far do you take it? Should it just be tries? Most people think that it is a simple yes, but what should they be able to look at?
Would you allow them to consider obstructions? This can look very different from a different angle and is not always a simple yes or no.
It is very hard to limit or restrict the scope of the video referee if you accept that action replays can be used to officiate the match.
Potential dismissals? The problem there is that sometimes it's only when we look at a number of replays that we all see the problem.
I don't think many people see what goes on in every tackle, and yet you'll have to be able to look at every tackle if you want to check things.
You could say that potential dismissals are more important than tries in a match, though we enter dangerous water when we start to consider this. But how can you have a system that checks some major incidents and not others?
Most fans I meet seem to be happy to accept that we use the video referee to double check how we restart play, but these same fans are the ones who complain to me that a game can take two hours now. What do they want?
I wrote a similar article to this last season and suggested that we have a national referendum of rugby league fans to find out! I'm not aware, but the RFL are probably conducting some research to understand what the fans expect to see in the future, both in the stadium and at home watching on TV.
I've met some supporters who feel their team's captain should be able to challenge the referee if he feels as though he's made an error. Again, I can see the logic in this, but it strikes me that we're just undermining the officials even more.
Once you start to ask for a second opinion it damages the credibility of the person who is supposed to be in charge.
There is an argument to remove the video referee and allow the on-field referee to watch a replay, giving him more control of the match. This could restore his authority and help referees at all levels of the game.
I worry that we undermine the referee the more times we stop and check his decision. Everyone in the ground should know that it is the man in the middle who is in complete control of the match.