Saturday, 24 October 2015

More thoughts on Rugby World Cup's excellent approach to refereeing.

Have you been watching the rugby, with respect to the refereeing? Amazing what a great job these gentlemen do, how they control the flow of the game, manage it, constantly talk to the players, but are still decisive and impartial. Also, how great it is that they openly, while ‘miked’, confer with touch judges and the video referee to arrive at decisions, none of this cloak of secrecy the NHL feels is necessary, when they come up with decisions that are dubious, probably assisted by other sources that officially are verboten.

The video referee is telling. The NHL foists a second ref on us, puts him on the ice, and he’s as blind and powerless as the first, gets in the way, is hesitant to upstage the other ref who’s closer to the action, or who’s more senior. What a mess.

At the Rugby World Cup, the video ref is in constant radio contact with the ref, tells him when an infraction has been missed, and at the next stoppage they’ll review it, none of this “I didn’t see Milan Lucic castrate Danny de Keyser”, or “I didn’t see Brad Marchand punch Tomas Plekanec in the head, because my own head and the second referee’s head was buried in the minutiae of the game clock.” Nothing is missed, nothing gets through, no commentators chuckling about a wily vet doing his job with a good bit of cheating he got away with. The British commentors cluck about bad mistakes and losses of composure instead.

The process is so refreshing. You’ll hear during play, live, the video ref saying “Romain, I have a instance of charging for you to review when you have a chance.” At the next stoppage, the ref will blow his whistle, call for the game clock to stop. The video ref will then put the footage of the infraction on the video screens at the stadium, for everyone to watch: the ref, the two teams, the fans, the viewers at home. “Romain, it’s #3 red, cleaning out #7 black with a shoulder, no attempt to wrap with the arms, at the 45:33 minute mark.”

Everyone watches, then the ref will ask the video judge “Okay, I see it. I think it’s a penalty, but not a yellow card. Do you agree?” The video ref will agree, the ref will then call the captain and offending player of the red team over, give them a verbal warning, and the award the penalty kick to the black team.

It’s clear, it’s quick, it’s fair, it’s open and transparent, the game moves quickly, the Zack Rinaldos and the Chris Neils can’t hide and do their dirty business in the shadows. It’s friggin’ amazing. None of this business with the refs in headphones talking in hushed tones with Toronto control, and other refs to keep players away, so they don’t hear anything. None of this referee running the length of the field to get ‘under the hood’ and watch who knows what and come up with a decision who knows how.

Talk about a qualitative difference in approach, rugby has a special term for a player who knows he’s beaten or about to be, and does something to spoil the play, they call it a ‘cynical’ offside or knock-on or whatever. In that case, not only does the aggrieved team get a penalty, but the offender is sent off the field for ten minutes with a yellow card. It’s so amazing to see, when a play is developing and a player just spoils it, voluntarily, and gets rightfully punished, instead of everyone shrugging, quĂ© sera sera…

I used to complain about the refereeing like I did about the weather, with no real hope for change. Or rather, with no belief that it could change, that things had to remain the way they are, fallible and unreliable. I no longer believe that. The NHL is criminally negligent in the way it referees its sport, and diminishes the spectacle for its fans. If the NHL can’t be trusted to run hockey at the highest expression of its form outside the Olympics, we need to blow it up and start fresh.

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