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Why aren’t rugby fans seeing top players taking to the whistle at a time when referees are paid? (file photo)

The competence of rugby referees has been questioned a little too much in the ongoing domestic rugby tournament. Spectators at the Havelocks SC vs Kandy SC match last week witnessed a brief stoppage in play when the players from the park club showed their disapproval over a try being disallowed. The referee had doubt and called for the assistance of one of the assistant referees (touch judge) who indicated that the try scoring move was flawed due to a forward pass. Since there was doubt, the referee decided not to award the try. However, the problem with most referees, according to critics, is that they are often in doubt as to how to control the game during situations that demand quick thinking.

Fitness can be gained if you work hard at it. But the problem with referees seems to be a good number of them lacking the exposure of playing rugby at school or club. Unlike fitness, experience of playing the game can’t be obtained after a certain age

Rugby is a fast game. As much as fitness decides the success of a player, this same factor decides how well a referee fares in an assignment. The question about fitness of referees every year is addressed, thanks to the inventing of the beep test. Fitness can be gained if you work hard at it. But the problem with referees seems to be a good number of them lacking the exposure of playing rugby at school or club. Unlike fitness, experience of playing the game can’t be obtained after a certain age.

The grievances against referees come at a time when the SRRSL is employing a consultant, Gareth Williamson (From New Zealand) to raise the standard of refereeing in the country. This is a nation where expatriates are hired for top coaching jobs. Some of these coaches or consultants fail to get their message across to their chargers due to barriers in communication. The same could be the reason why some of these referees haven’t been able to elevate their standards despite working with expatriates and also having the opportunity to officiate at international tournaments.

There was a time when players with impressive credentials refrained from taking to the whistle because there was no monetary return in this aspect of rugby. But at present referees demand a large portion of a rugby budget allocated to run a tournament. Why aren’t rugby fans seeing top players taking to the whistle at a time when referees are paid?

A player doesn’t have to wait till the twilight years of his career to take up refereeing. You can take to officiating in matches when you are at your peak and playing division one club rugby. The present president of the referees’ society Nizam Jamaldeen was a referee in demand for school matches when he was playing his best years of rugby for Police Sports Cub. Interestingly he is back in the saddle of the SRRSL as its president. This is a time when the need if felt greatly for players who represent their schools at division one rugby tournaments to join the referees society and serve the game as professionals. Any article on rugby referees is not complete without mentioning of the name of ex-Sri Lanka fly half and former SRRFL president Dilroy Fernando who played a vital role in making rugby refereeing a paid job in Sri Lanka.

At a time when there is a dearth of competent referees, this scribe has an interesting story to reveal. A former member of the SRRSL Rohan Fernando was in Sri Lanka for a short holiday, but he was denied any opportunity to officiate at matches this season despite making himself available. The reason given to Fernando regarding why he was not considered for assignments was because the SRRSL felt he was not a qualified referee.

Fernando is at present employed in Australia and told this scribe that he gets top refereeing assignments Down Under. There are also reports regarding a faction of disgruntled referees who accuse the SRRSL of not having informed them of the referees’ society AGM.  Do all these reports about the SRRSL suggest that this ‘society’ is guilty of not utilizing its assets to the maximum?

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