The line between calling something as you see it and whining seems to be very fine, so call me a whiner if you like, but I am getting tired of being politically correct when criticising referees.
In a way I do not really care because just reading some comments from our mates down in the land of the long white, it cannot really be whining if they actually feel the same way and they ended up on the winning side!
Also, whining would constitute that I have a problem because the team I support lost and this is not the case at all. There is only one loser here and that is the game of rugby union itself.
I guess I do not have to go into much detail for you to understand where I come from and since the Tri-Nations kicked off with the two tests between the All Blacks and Springboks referee indiscretions dominated most of the conversations and debate on just about every news website or blog.
So let me tell you what I am growing sick of.
I am growing sick of not being able to call something as I see it because of the backlash it will invoke and the perceptions it will create that I am only looking for excuses or an easy escape.
To our Kiwi and Australian friends you might think I am going overboard with that statement but I think it is fair to say that the current political climate in South Africa and given our political past a culture of apologists has been created where you have to be very careful on how you comment on something or be very politically correct for fear of being labelled.
So what are my issues with referees?
Well quite simply I am getting tired of excuses being made for them where their indiscretions or faults are protected by the stigma that you cannot bitch about it without being called a whiner or having sour grapes when it is actually quite clear for everyone to see that it is a massive problem!
The game of union is based on a very simple principle.
It is a contest between two opposing teams governed by laws to make it fair on each team and officiated by individuals to ensure these laws are followed and a winner is crowned after a fair contest.
And quite simply, if anyone can call what we saw in the two recent tests between two of the fiercest and oldest rivals in rugby union a fair contest then you can kiss my beee-hind!
Hell forget the fact that it was between these two teams because it could have been between any two teams, at any level, the point is the game of rugby is robbed of what it is intended to provide, and in the end, forgetting the scoreboard there is only one loser – rugby itself.
Personally having defended referees in the 5 years I have engaged in online debates on various forums (yes I actually choose their side almost every time) the most common excuse you come across in justifying their shortcomings was that they are, simply human…
Now here is what I do not have a problem with.
I have no problem with the fact that referees from time to time will make errors because they are only human, like you and me.
I have no problem with referees being influenced by perceptions in the game of union because every single one of us are influenced in our professional environments every single day and that has an effect on how we perceive things and generally base decisions on.
I have no problem even with referees having a off day, as all of us do from time to time.
But what I do have a problem with is the scope of human error afforded to them and used as a reason for their incompetence!
Let me explain this another way.
With anything in life where decisions are made it is accepted that there will be errors made. In some instances and in some environments the scope or room afforded for these errors are bigger than in other areas. For instance, the room for error for a cashier in giving you the correct change is much larger than the room for error afforded to a doctor or surgeon performing an operation.
If you then choose to become a doctor, or high court judge you accept that the room for error afforded to you is very small and you will then automatically pay a hell of a lot more attention to detail to what you do, and the decisions you make simply because of the consequences that comes with making the wrong decisions.
It is therefore logical for me to assume that by affording more room for error, where the consequences of making errors are not that high actually encourages those specific individuals to approach their environment or job in making decisions, to be slack, or less aware or attentive to what they actually do because they have more room for error.
In its history of well over 100 years rugby union is littered of stories on how some referee screwed some team out of a win and it makes for great conversation around a braai, but it is also about time we have to accept that the game of union is not an amateur sport anymore, the consequences of actions in the game of union today are much more far-reaching than it was in the amateur days and therefore, the room for error also has to be cut down from where it was yesterday, to where it should be today.
In an environment where the pressures of the game in losing a match, in which the decision making of the referee did play a part, necessitates a team to make 8 unforced changes it is then quite easy to see the direct influence and consequence this has on individuals in the game where the livelihood is directly affected.
Take it to another level, in an environment where two losses, influenced in some way by poor refereeing or inconsistent refereeing invoke responses in the media or from individuals to have coaches fired, or players to be dropped and never selected again, it is clear to see just how important it is that we change the room for error currently afforded for referees.
So call me a whiner, I don’t care.
But I will end with this, anyone that denies the influence of the referee and what it had specifically in the last two tests is a fool. Anyone who believes it is the reason the one team lost, is an absolute tool.
What it has done, is make the game of union poorer for the fact.