Rugby vs Soccer: What Rugby Referees Have That Soccer Refs Do Not

Referee Mark Clattenburg has been cleared of insulting Adam Lallana during an English Premier League soccer match
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CASTRES, FRANCE – When it comes to the question of Rugby vs Soccer, English Premier League soccer referee Mark Clattenburg must wish that he and his colleagues could enjoy the on-field respect accorded to officials in the game of rugby union.

Referee Mark Clattenburg has been cleared of insulting Adam Lallana during an English Premier League soccer match
Ref Clattenburg has been cleared of insulting Adam Lallana during English Premier League soccer match

The Football Association this week agreed with The Professional Game Match Officials Ltd (PGMOL), which is responsible for referees officiating at English Premier League matches; it cleared him of insulting Southampton skipper Adam Lallana after waving away a penalty appeal during the Saints’ 2-1 defeat at Everton on December 29.

He is believed to have said to Lallana: “You’re very different now you’ve played for England. You never used to be like this.

Shock, horror.

It’s not the first time Clattenburg has faced allegations about his choice of words during a match. In November 2012, he was cleared by the English Football Association of using inappropriate language (a press department euphemism for racist) towards Chelsea’s midfielder John Mikel Obi.

The FA and PGMOL may have decided Clattenburg, who refereed all-Premier League FA Cup third-round tie between Arsenal and Tottenham on Saturday (a game which has its own notoriety, for very different reasons), had no case to answer this time – but the question of what constitutes “respect between players and officials is a serious issue in soccer.

After all, it was just one of a string of incidents at the end of 2013.

Mark Clattenburg and Jon Mickel Obi
Mark Clattenburg and Jon Mikel Obi

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodger’s was charged by the FA following his comments about referee Lee Mason, who officiated in the 2-1 defeat against Manchester City on December 26; while Stoke boss Mark Hughes was fined after being sent to the stands by match official Mark Atkinson during his side’s Premier League loss at Newcastle.

The problem is not confined to officials and managers.

In March, European soccer’s governing body, Uefa, decided to take no action against Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand, after he directed sarcastic applause towards Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir at the end of their controversial match against Real Madrid.

The above is just a quartet of lowlights from 2013. Hardly a game goes by in which at least one match official is not surrounded by furious players all determined to make their point as loudly as possible.

Soccer referees must dream of a mythical day sometime far, far into the future that – as rugby referees do – they can wave their arms like Moses parting the Red Sea and, with a calm “Gentlemen, please…”, separate warring factions of players while they sort out any given issue.

Manchester United players make their feelings known about this Mark Clattenburg decision
Man U players make their feelings known about Clattenburg decision

And let’s not get started on the issue of diving.

In short, “respect” is missing – presumed dead in the highest levels of soccer – and the problem has flooded down through the grassroots of the game. In England at least.

It’s not a problem that rugby faces… yet. Despite, or probably even because of, the fact that the rules are almost impossibly difficult to enforce, referees are accorded a level of respect that will have soccer officials drooling.

Lineouts are tough to police. Who, other than the players involved, can work out what’s going on when the mysterious line dance starts the second the hooker shouts out the name of a cocktail from a local bar? The maul is a violent maelstrom of players and infringements. Rucks and scrums are worse – and if you thought soccer’s offside rule is hard to explain, rugby’s will make you go cross-eyed.

Yes, rugby referees are obliged to maintain zen-like levels of calm in the heat of many intense moments during a match – and, yes, they get things wrong. And, yes, it’s absolutely right that they are under the

One on one. Rugby referee Wayne Barnes calmly discusses a decision with Dylan Hartley
1 on 1. Rugby ref Wayne Barnes calmly discusses  decision w/Dylan Hartley

But – and this is the key point – on the pitch (and in spite, on occasion, of Richard Cockerill), respect for the referee is built into rugby union’s DNA. A decision is made and, regardless of whether it’s right or wrong, it’s accepted. And if it’s not, the referee has the option of penalising the offending side by forcing them to concede another 10m or reversing the penalty.

Similars rule in soccer would be no panacea to soccer’s lack-of-respect ills. The two games are too different to start stealing rules from one another. But soccer needs to learn from rugby’s attitude towards its officials before it’s too late.

Otherwise rugby will start to learn from soccer… and that way madness lies.

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About James Harrington 196 Articles
James Harrington... Before injury brought his rugby career to a timely end, journalist James was equally useless whether he packed down in the second row or at number 8, positions in which he represented his school and university with indistinction. The prolific one now lives in France with his journalist wife and three children and watches as much Top 14, European and international action he thinks he can get away with; justifying his obsession by claiming: "But it's all work, Honey!"