The stark difference between the on-field behaviour of rugby players and their footballing counterparts towards match officials is mutual respect, 2007 World Cup final referee Alain Rolland told AFP.
Nowhere could this be more vividly highlighted than in two incidents in each sport — Rolland’s sensational sending-off of Wales captain Sam Warburton in the 2011 World Cup semi-final against France, and a penalty awarded by Andy D’Urso for Middlesbrough in their English Premiership match with Manchester United in 2000.
The latter produced images that remain ingrained in people’s memories of captain Roy Keane and several of his team-mates pursuing D’Urso and surrounding him on the touchline with the fiery Irishman screaming in his face.
Despite the negative headlines, D’Urso didn’t see fit to include the incident in his match report, although he admitted to the Daily Mirror he had kept backing away because “if I had stood my ground I would have been pushed over.”
Despite Rolland’s decision having far more serious repercussions, a World Cup final place was at stake to the winners, there were no such histrionics or threatening behaviour.
“There wasn’t a word out of one player,” said Rolland.
The 49-year-old France-born Irishman — who had been a top class scrum-half earning three caps before becoming one of the most pre-eminent referees in the professional era — said rugby officials will not stand for any form of dissent, unlike football referees.
“Rugby officials will not tolerate dissent. Wayne Barnes sent Dylan Hartley off in the Premiership final for dissent. This is very much a directive from the top (World Rugby) not to put up with it,” said Rolland, who retired as a referee in 2014.
“Coaches too are held to account. That is the same in football where managers can find themselves in the dock for remarks made. However, on the pitch is where the difference lies as the football referees allow themselves to be surrounded and don’t do anything about it.”
– hammered home –
Rolland, who in all refereed 65 test matches and 70 European Cup games including the 2014 final, said the difference in behaviour stems from childhood training sessions.
“It is inbred into kids at a very early stage,” he said.
“The tradition is really hammered home: the referee’s decision is final.
“A colleague once said to me ‘I have a son who plays soccer on a Saturday and rugby on a Sunday, and it feels like I have two sons. On the Saturday he is screaming and yelling at the referee and on the Sunday he is quiet as a lamb’.
“That sums it up for me as it has always been the way in rugby and football,” added Rolland.
Rolland, who uses his refereeing experiences to advantage in his business consultancy practice, says that it is also down to what the children see professionals doing on the pitch that influences their way of behaving in the respective sports.
“Kids see the different attitudes to referees in the shop window,” said Rolland.
“In rugby they see a player going off without saying a word of objection and that sets an example to the children.
“The parents on the touchline are not the same and scream at the referee but the kids learn from what they see on TV or at the ground.
“In football’s shop window, though, when their idols like Wayne Rooney and others run at the referee and scream abuse and get away with it then they believe they can do the same.”
Rolland says that respect runs both ways when they have verbal exchanges.
“A number of times players will still address you as ‘sir’, though it is more often ‘ref’ and it is very rarely by name,” he said.
“It works both ways. As a referee you have to show equity with the players.
“You might happen to know one of the captains but you can’t say ‘John’ and address the opposing captain as ‘Number 3’ because that immediately indicates there is an imbalance in the relationship.
“There is a fine balance to be drawn.” – Agence France-Presse