International Rugby Board (IRB) chairman Bernard Lapasset has spoken out against the “increase” in public criticism of referees ahead of the start of this season’s Six Nations.
Rugby Union, in common with many sports, has long set great store by respect for match officials.
But in the high stakes professional era it has become increasingly common for officials to find their decisions called into question while some coaches, borrowing a tactic often deployed by former Manchester United football manager Alex Ferguson, try to influence referees publicly in the build-up to a match.
“Rugby values its culture of respect for the opposition and match officials, which is at the very heart of the game,” Lapasset said in a statement issued from the IRB’s Dublin headquarters on Thursday.
“But there has been a slow increase in the level and intensity of public criticism of match officials and their performances from coaches and players,” the former French Rugby Federation president added.
This month Toulon coach Bernard Laporte labelled referee Laurent Cardona as “hopeless” and “completely incompetent” following the European champions’ 22-21 French Top 14 defeat by Grenoble.
Few team chiefs are quite as outspoken regarding referees as former France coach and French government minister Laporte, who faces a domestic league disciplinary hearing next month.
But the likes of Wales and British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland are rarely shy of offering a public opinion rather than relying solely on private IRB channels to communicate their concerns.
The global governing body said they’d reminded national unions that, under their code of conduct, “any published criticism of match officials or comments that demonstrate the potential to bring the game into disrepute will be investigated and addressed by the tournament organiser and, as appropriate, the IRB.”
Lapasset added: “Match officials, like players, do make mistakes, but it is important that we work with our unions to ensure that match official performance is discussed within the appropriate and established framework for feedback and appraisal that operates between coaches, match officials and the IRB.”
The 2014 edition of the Six Nations, the European game’s premier international tournament, starts this weekend.
Defending champions Wales are at home to Italy on Saturday, when France play England in Paris, with Ireland facing Scotland in Dublin on Sunday.