In July 2016, a new zero-tolerance crackdown upon ‘intolerable’ treatment of referees was promised across all of English professional football in an attempt to crackdown the amount of abuse officials face at every level of the national game.
The Premier League, Football League and the Football Association have instructed officials to take a far stricter approach if they are subject to intimidation, physical contact and dissent from players as well as managers.
This comes after a series of high profile incidents in the Premier League last season, including Jamie Vardy who was banned for one game after abuse he gave referee Jon Moss and the infamous Diego Costa who has had numerous incidents in which he has remonstrated with referees over his supposed mistreatment within the Premier League.
It is about time that such a rule is enforced, as damning research done by The Telegraph illustrates that 60% of officials in grassroots football were experiencing significant verbal abuse in at least half of their games, while more than 19% had even endured physical abuse.
Many point to rugby of both codes and their reduced levels of dissent however, sadly, if one suggests a rugby remedy, you are labelled as holier-than-thou and preaching. What rugby recognises is that the respect for officials is an important factor, and the behaviour of the players on field could affect crowds and the game lower down. This is indoctrinated at the very youngest of ages, that officials are, without exception, to be treated with the utmost respect.
The officials themselves do not have to earn it, as the street is not two-way. If the referees manage to do so, though this happens in fewer cases than with players, then this is altogether a different form of respect. Even if there were to be poor refereeing, it should bring sanction to them as opposed to them losing respect entirely.
Rugby players themselves are not superior and would protest in the same way footballers could if they were able to, however the laws of rugby prevent them from doing so. If you are marched back 10 yards or are sin-binned then there is an immediate effect.
If a penalty for a rugby player is now within perfect range and the opposing team kicks and gains points during absence, then it is you, not the officials that are responsible for the consequences of your actions. A yellow card that is shown is not totalled up in a ban like in football, which may bite a few games later, and benefit another opponent.
As a result of this implementation, none of your fellow teammates, management, or even your fans, will support such behaviour, whether or not you think that the decision made by the referee was wrong. You could, and are able to stop yourself from reacting to a decision with abuse and confrontation. Anyone that says you are unable to are part of the problem.
Given that this is just the latest attempt in order to tackle this significant issue, one has to doubt the will of football being able to see it through. If football is unable to, then other sanctions will be necessary.
In rugby, the sin-bin itself is extremely useful. Why? Well it limits the effects of the punishment yet it gives the opposing team an instant advantage. One could utilise the 10-yard rule as well. This, according to Telegraph writer Brian Moore, would work if the spot was moved towards the centre of the goal, and if it went inside the box, automatically resulted in a penalty.
If that does not work, then potentially a three-point deduction for an agreed amount of cards shown would most likely be a far more effective sanction than, say, fines or warnings to rich clubs. With such a rule enforced, how long will managers maintain the selection of players that run the risk of threatening a team’s success as well as their jobs?
What also could prove beneficial is the miking up of referees so that both the viewers and the supporters can hear players’ comments. They and, importantly, sponsors would soon complain when everybody is able to hear how bad the problem is. A player’s self interest and peer group pressure are very influential and effective behaviour modifiers.
Even though lip service is paid to this point – without officials it renders the game non-existent.