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Referees in Sri Lanka have received the proper recognition with the Society for Rugby Football Referees in Sri Lanka (SRFRSL) deciding to felicitate its members at a gala ceremony in Colombo.

The rugby referees would have enjoyed coming under the spotlight at their first ever ‘Colours Night’ by the time this article is read. Weekend Nation thought it would be appropriate to have a chit chat with SRFRSL President ASP Nizam Jamaldeen about how this sports body has functioned during a 64-year period.

Rugby referees are doing a thankless job. At present, a game can’t be commenced without a team of referees. But the biggest grievance of referees is how the spectators treat them. Many are verbally abused and some demand their removal from matches, citing mistakes made on the field. “When a player makes a mistake do you throw him out? So why throw the referee out when he blunders,” asked Jamaldeen who once represented Police Sports Club and Sri Lanka in rugby.

Rugby (1)The referees’ society president wishes to see the return of the era when referees were loved and respected. He said that Sri Lanka Rugby (SLR), clubs, players and the referees must all get together if rugby in this country is to prosper. “We need a good culture,” he said.

This Colours Night is the first of its kind with regard to referees. Jamaldeen said that referees are felicitated in other countries and the decision taken to honour referees will now encourage youngsters to take to the whistle.

As many as 200 invitations were sent out to invitees which included present members, past presidents, top officials of SLR, the sports minister and media personnel.

Going down memory lane, the SRFSL was formed in 1953. It all started with a meeting on April 30, 1953 which was chaired by CA Camaroon. However, the first ever AGM of the SRFRSL was held in August that year and Sydney Soysa was elected as its first president.
The members of the referees’ society did an honourary service and the majority of its members were those who had the experience of playing rugby at top level. But over the years past players showed a lukewarm interest to take to refereeing. As a result rugby enthusiasts who had no exposure to the game as players came up to fill the void for referees.

SRFRSL President ASP Nizam Jamaldeen
SRFRSL President ASP Nizam Jamaldeen

There was a dark era where referees were subject to verbal abuse and criticism. This was largely because the new generation of referees needed to gain experience and settle down in their role as those who officiated the game. These referees did settle down to do a good job as the years rolled by. The good news is that the voice of armchair critics has dropped to a whisper.

“Every Wednesday we have a review meeting where we see how referees fared at matches. If a club has concerns about how a game was officiated they can do so before 4pm on Monday. Even spectators can bring in their concerns and make complaints provided they present evidence,” said Jamaldeen.

According to Jamaldeen the referees’ society has to take into account 600 school matches for a season. The shortage of referees hasn’t helped much in this endeavour. At present there are only about 100 active members serving the SRFRSL. Jamaldeen has written to principals of schools to send schoolboys to be trained as referees. “If a school leaver starts as a cadet referee, by the time he is 23 or 24 years old, he can be serving the Asian Rugby Football Union (ARFU) referees panel,” Jamaldeen said.

At present there are nine members in the A panel of referees. However the cut-off age to serve the ARFU referees’ panel being set at age 35 sees only one member of the SRFRSL, Irshad Carder, going for overseas assignments.

Apart from controlling matches, the SRFRSL conducts workshops for players, brings down referee trainers to educate its members and conducts fitness programmes for referees.
When the referees’ society proposed the idea of felicitating its members, it received instant approval from SLR and rugby’s principle sponsor Dialog. In fact Dialog wanted a gala ceremony in line with some of the awards ceremonies they sponsor in other sports they are associated with.

When one considers the sacrifices these referees make to be away from their families during weekends stay fit and watch their diet, it only calls for a day like this where they should be petted and pampered.