The manner in which referees are ill-treated at school rugby matches is alarming. The situation is so bad that matches are played in a war-like environment, often with the assistance of patrolling policemen or security personnel hired from private companies. Society of Rugby Football Referees in Sri Lanka (SRFRSL) President ASP Nizam Jamaldeen is of the view that this tensed situation at matches should be defused,  and if not it gives a very wrong signal to the new generation of players.

Jamaldeen said in an interview with Nation that referees are hugely under pressure when they officiate in matches played in such ‘unnatural conditions’. “Rugby is a game where not only the spectators and the players of both teams come to enjoy the proceedings. Even the referee must enjoy officiating in the game,” affirmed Jamaladeen who was reelected president of the SRFRSL early this year.

He said that the matches of referees are assessed each week by an assignment panel where mistakes are highlighted and referees are educated on how to improve. “Referees are not 100% perfect, but efforts are made to develop them into better referees,” said Jamaldeen who added that spectators must have patience and give the new referees time to improve.

SRFRSL President ASP Nizam Jamaldeen
SRFRSL President ASP Nizam Jamaldeen

Jamaldeen said that referees try to aid the flow of the game and criticism is directed towards them when they (referees) don’t blow for infringements during times when a player being off side in one location has nothing to do with the ball being in play in some other part of the field. “We as referees try to manage a situation rather than blow the whistle all the time,” explained Jamaldeen.

According to him, the referees’ society is proud to have in its ranks an up-and-coming referee in the likes of Rohan Fernando who had the honour of officiating in the Cup Championship final of the Borneo Sevens. Fernando has been presented with an opportunity to attend a two-weeks training workshop for referees in London.

During this school rugby season, we saw enough incidents where the referees were at the receiving end of exasperated spectators. At some venues referees have been abused using filth. At the time of writing, Jamaldeen warned that there might be occasions in the future where the referees’ society boycotts the matches of certain host teams where there has been a pattern of unruly spectator behaviour, targeting the referees and assistant referees (touch judges).

He queried why spectators don’t target players when they make mistakes. “Like players, the referees also make mistakes. After all, referees are also human beings,” stressed Jamaldeen.

He also blamed the win any cost attitude adopted by certain school coaches. Some schools that host matches hire the services of private security firms. Some schools obtain the service of the Police riot squad to do duty at matches. “All this makes the environment very unnatural and gives the wrong message to children watching rugby matches,” he said.

Jamaldeen said that the SRFRSL is on the hunt for schoolboys who can function as cadet referees. At present there are about 3-4 schoolboys who have joined the referees’ society. “When one considers the fact that as many as 600 matches are played every week, there is certainly a dearth of referees. We have written to the SLRFU, the Sri Lanka Schools Rugby Football Association, rugby playing schools and clubs to send players to be tried out as referees,” he said.

He said that most of the recruits to the SRFRSL generally have a high level of tolerance. However referees are also cautioned and trained to hone this skill, which is essential to be a successful referee.

Jamaldeen wishes to see rugby return to the times when referees were held in high esteem and were loved by the players and spectators. He recalled the times when the referee was approached by players and spectators after a game and showered with appreciation. There was a lot of warmth in the spirit of rugby back then and the referee was looked upon as a school teacher in charge of a classroom!

SRFRSL President ASP Nizam Jamaldeen (3)