Sri Lanka Rugby and Referees
By Vimal Perera
Sri Lanka Rugby (SLR) is responsible for the referees appointed for matches. The Tournament Manual says SLR will appoint match officials. SLR is accountable for the appointment of referees, and this means that the Referees’ Society provides a support service. The clause is in line with the Laws of the Game, which states the match organiser will appoint the referee. A similar clause exists in the tournament manual for schools.
However, I do not think the SLR can take over all aspects of referees, and a discussion of the protocol of other countries is below.
In Asian countries such as Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and others, there is a Referees’ Society, as well as Provincial Associations assisting to recruit and develop referees. A similar practice is followed in the Northern and Southern Hemisphere.
In these countries, the appointment of referees for National level games are by the Union. In contrast, the referees for lower division games are by the Referees’ Societies, who in turn provide referees to the central unit.
A case study of RFU (England) shows that referees for matches graded as Level 1 to 5 are to be appointed by the RFU. These are National level games. In practice, L5 appointments are by the Divisional Referee Coordinator, L3 and 4 are by the Match Official Development Managers, while L1 and L2 are by the Professional Management team.
The referee appointments for L6 to L10 is by the Referees’ Societies based on the grading of the games. That gives them the opportunity to recruit and develop referees. The Union takes the cream, just like players who are developed by the clubs are selected for National Duty.
The pathway for refereeing in rugby developed countries include officiating in the local society and progressing to the State or Region. In Australia, you proceed to Premiership, National Level, SANZAR and World Rugby. The structure in New Zealand is also similar.
In Wales the WRU is responsible through its Referees’ Department for the development/training and appointment of all referees. Still, it delegates some of its duties. A young referee with potential will be identified and put in a development programme. A quote from a referee is the Welsh system. ‘Some fall away, but generally, we have a good set of guys coming out the other end that we hope will give us a good group of officials at the semi and pro end of the game.’
Simple multiple-choice test and allowed to referee U-7 up to U-16s and appointed by the home club, or in some cases the organising body. No formal requirement to attend Referees’ Society but encouraged to do so and step up to Youth/adult rugby.
Referees are appointed by a ‘Regional Appointment Officer’ or at times by the Referees' Department at the WRU itself. They Referee Youth and local/district - often second team - rugby. Young aspiring referees looking to become the next RWC referee and some older experienced referees who enjoy the game. Some of them are those who have no ambition to progress to the next level.
The appointments at this level cover the Welsh leagues and above. Referees start at Division Three moving up towards the Welsh Premiership/Championship and then the Semi-Pro Premiership and possibly the pro-game and appointed directly by the WRU Referees’ Department.
The Referees’ Department supports all referees with training programmes. Usually they provide one training session a month, and the district then adds a second society night.
Is the system perfect? The quote of an experienced referee and a club referee Liaison Officer says, "No, there are issues which are inevitable at times. Sometimes eyebrows are justifiably raised when particular referees are promoted to L3 and sit in Division 3/2 area.”
The Constitution of Sri Lanka Rugby says that the Sri Lanka Society of Rugby Football Referees (SLSRFR) shall consist of Provincial Union Referees Societies. After many years the expectation has not taken root. Can this constitutional clause and the objectives of SLR be used to lift the match officiating standards which have been subject to much criticism?
An objective of SLR is ‘To control and assist the Sri Lanka Society of Rugby Football Referees in the training and grading of referees, who shall be called upon to provide referees for all games played under the control and auspices of SLR.’
How best can this clause be interpreted to provide a firmer hold in-game officiating?
Does the use of the word ‘shall’ make it imperative for the SLR to call upon the SLSRFR to appoint referees? Shall unlike ‘must’ does not make it compulsory.
The Tournament Manual of Sri Lanka Rugby seems to have taken the position of not being imperative. It says the appointment of match officials will be by SLR and includes the Referees and the attending team of Assistant Referees and Fourth and Fifth Officials. The inclusion is in line with the Laws of the Game. It therefore follows that SLR is responsible for the appointment of referees and the Referees’ Society provides a support service.
It then follows that the SLR is responsible for the performance or non-performance of referees. That is where responsibility lies.
However, what is essential is that those responsible for appointing must be independent.
In terms of the constitution, the Referees’ Society is responsible for the training development and providing referees. It then requires that the Referees’ Society should consist of provincial unions to perform their task through such associations.
The need in Sri Lanka is to develop a structure? The pathway, I believe, is neglected.
If the SLR is to move forward in this vital area, they have to grade rugby into levels which can be done by the Technical Committee. The Technical Committee is mandatory as per sports regulations. As an example: Levels 1 and 2 will be ‘A’ Division Club tournaments and Schools ‘A’ Division will be the next band. Possibly Levels 3 and 4 will be Clubs ‘B’ and Schools ‘B’. Rest of the matches will fall into the lower categories, which will include the junior games.
The grading will lead to a pathway for Sri Lanka and SLR to take responsibility for national tournaments and to contract and appoint the referees for national matches. The development of these referees should be with the SLR. At this point, it is the development of referees as training has taken shape in the societies.
The immediate arguments will be that Sri Lanka Rugby is small and there is one top league for clubs and another in schools. This does not hold water if we take the number of matches overall taking into account all levels of the game. The league and knock put as well as the top league sevens will have close to one hundred games and adding other matches will consist of over five hundred.
Assuming two different schools and club seasons, one may have about twelve weeks of Rugby each, which works to a match per week for ten referees. They will also referee at lower games when time permits to help development of referees. Another six hundred games and sixty active referees will give each over ten rounds. At the same time, some will be called from the development panels to be Assistant Referees and sub officials (numbers are subjective).
SLR, however, will continue to support the Referees Society and the constituent provincial societies in line with the constitution. SLR will manage an elite or a professional group of referees for the top tier games. At the same time, appointments will be merit-based and subject to promotion and demotion. With Rugby at a lockdown due to COVID-19, this would be an excellent time to start the SLR contracted top panel.