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Rugby referees should start early, says Anil Jayasinghe (Pic by Sassanda Liyanarachchi)

Referee Educator Anil Jayasinghe is concerned that there are no Sri Lankans at present in the World Rugby Referees’ Panel. The last islander to serve this panel was Arshad Carder, but he too has lost his place very recently. Anil, who attended the recent Performance Development Workshop in Japan, told Nation during an interview that a referee must improve if he is to continue officiating in international matches.

Anil has brought home a bagful of experience after attending the four-day workshop where he got the opportunity to make a presentation about the Society for Sri Lanka Rugby Football Referees SSLRFR). With the aid of the presentation, Anil was able to show the pathway in which Sri Lanka’s referees have moved in this endeavour of officiating at matches. According to him, other than Japan, most of the Asian countries have to rely on Europeans when it comes to crucial games or conducting of international tournaments.

A few weeks ago, Sri Lanka too obtained the services of an Australian (Sam Jones) to officiate in the Kandy SC vs. Navy SC Clifford Cup game played at Nittawela. The Aussie was just 19 years of age and is said to be someone who has taken a serious interest in refereeing. Anil squashed existing thoughts that only players who have played the game at the highest level should take to the whistle. “This is all old talk. In the world, now the trend is for players who know they won’t make the grade to quit playing and take to the whistle when they are teenagers. Referees around the world start officiating as early as 13 or 14. Some of the best referees in the world have played a little rugby and peak when they are between the ages 25-27. World Rugby insists that referees should be below age 35,” explained Anil as he hinted that the future of referees will be both challenging and exciting.

At the workshop, all referees had to attend a strength and conditioning session where the educators went on to underscore that all referees need to be fit like the players. Anil is from Kandy and remembers one of the celebrated rugby referees in the country like CH Senewiratne officiating matches. “One day he called me for a road run. He was in his 40s and I was in my late twenties. I found it very hard to keep pace with him,” is how he recalled a memorable moment he had with the referee with the famous white beard.

Anil who serves the Society of SSLRFR as Referees Manager spoke about how competitive the game has become at school level. He said that schoolboys have to carry that extra burden placed on them because the game has turned professional. “I think this pressure is created by old boys and parents because so much money is invested on rugby at school level,” said Anil hinting that this pressure has the potential to create unsavory incidents never seen before in school rugby.

The veteran referee educator said that participants at the workshop were briefed about new rules that will be implemented in the Asian rugby scene. The new guidelines given to referees will see them being very harsh on players who indulge in unwanted rough play. “For example, if a neck grab without a twist cleans the player out during a ruck or tackle situation, the opposite team gets a penalty kick. But if the neck grab is followed by a roll and brings the player to the ground it amounts to a yellow card. And if the neck grab involves a roll and a forceful dumping action where the player is brought to the ground, this amounts to a red card,” he explained.

He is well aware of referees being at the receiving end of abusive spectators during matches. Anil took this opportunity to request all spectators to take the decisions made by the referee in the best interest of the game and accept victory and defeat in the same spirit. “If there are grieved parties they can always produce video evidence and make a complaint to the referees’ society or the rugby union. There is always a gentlemanly way of settling an issue. After all we must not forget one of rugby’s core values is to promote camaraderie amongst each other,” Anil said.

Anil took to refereeing in 1992 after representing his alma mater Vidyartha College (1984) and later Kandy Sports Club (1989), as a full back. He is a person who believes that all referees should dream big and evolve as people involved with the game. At present, he is working towards his next goal which is to be a Referee Trainer. For the record, he had done well at the Quality Assurance Session at the recent workshop in a segment titled ‘quay’. He had taught a match official how a maul happens, a trainer had monitored his (Anil’s) performance and the master trainer had evaluated the performance of the trainer. Anil said with a smile on his face that after his participation at the workshop, his license as a referee educator had been renewed for another year.

As officiators of matches, referees come across players who belong to different cultures. The workshop in Japan had a specific session where referees were taught how to deal with change of cultures, which is applicable when dealing with foreign players, either in domestic or international competitions. “There is this tendency for a referee to sometimes show aggression. A referee is not a policeman. A referee should be a facilitator,” concluded Anil.