Friday, 14 June 2013

Respect- what football can learn from rugby

Now that’s how you gain respect for referees. 

Football constantly casts an envious eye at rugby players' behaviour towards referees, wondering how officials escape relatively unmolested by players when making decisions they disagree with.

Well, Northampton Saints hooker Dylan Hartley’s swift and severe suspension, which cost him a dream place in the current Lions tour, should provide them with the answer they are looking for.

Hartley had been named in Warren Gatland's squad to take on Australia this summer. But that counted for nothing when he allegedly called referee Wayne Barnes a cheat.

Rugby's powers that be would not tolerate such behaviour against one of their referees. Lion in waiting or not, Hartley was banned for 11 weeks and is now watching the Lions tour from afar.

Meanwhile, the FA's Respect Campaign has over the past few years enlisted high profile players and dished out T-shirts left right and centre to try and get the message across - largely to no avail.

Professional footballers still seem to launch into phlegm-specked, foul-mouthed rants almost every time a ref places a whistle to their lips.

Administrators scratch their heads and furrow their brows as they “try to do everything in their power” to protect referees. Nonsense.

There is one simple solution, the same as there is for shirt-pulling and diving: Punish them properly. 
For years I have advocated a zero tolerance approach to dissent and foul language aimed at the referee on a football pitch. 

It’s simple: Send the offenders off and ban them. 

You can almost hear throats being cleared to yell the chorus of disapproval. 

“But if you do that, we’ll end up playing five-a-side!” cry the dissenters. 

Yes, of course, for the first couple of weeks there will be a flurry of red cards.

But then it will stop, or at least be reduced to a trickle. 

Footballers may not be the brightest, but their managers and club owners are . . . well, most of them. 

When they see their prized and extremely expensive centre forward sitting out a three-match ban for dissent, warnings will be issued, fines will be threatened and clubs will police their players.

Respect will be due. 

I remember hearing a story years ago about a referee who officiated on rugby and football matches. 

He was asked what was the main difference between reffing the two sports. "The rugby players call me 'Sir'," he replied.

If a system as strict as rugby’s is enforced, players will learn. Granted, perhaps not all of them, but then not all of them have learned their lessons in rugby – Hartley, for example, perhaps will never learn given his "previous" for various other misdemeanours.

In time, the vast majority will learn and they will set a far better example to younger players who look up to them. 

The knock-on effects will be felt throughout the game, right down to the park matches on Sunday mornings where unpaid volunteer refs also endure intolerable abuse.

It may be hugely unfortunate on a personal level for Hartley to miss out on the pinnacle of a professional rugby player's career.

However, for rugby itself, it is a huge credit to the sport that it is prepared to take this stance against a player who has disobeyed one of the sport’s golden rules.

If football is serious about instilling discipline into its players then it must follow rugby’s excellent example.



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