The foreign affairs bureau

Big picture issues by Boa Athu


As we look beyond the DRL club premiership and season proper, all key games in the last 4 weeks were handled by foreign referees. Now, with the start of the schools 1st XV or Singer Schools Rugby League, (SSRL) the attention and focus will no doubt, intensify. 

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Charlie Brown en-route to Sri Lanka

Reputed International referee in the Island for two games

The stakes just got raised two-fold and the passion became fever pitch. Old boys and fans alike, look to relive their glory by way of schoolboys chasing an odd shaped ball. That is the emotionality and intensity with the game and most loved sports comp in Sri Lanka. 

That of fans and supporters of all schools looking for an edge. To see that their team wins. In this process, the age-old questions over refereeing will eventually pop up. It always does and it always will. This year, given the openness and evenness, it will be greater than ever. Just you wait and see. 

Charles Brown and Lawrence Wilkinson being the two most iconic identities and Just Wang, who officiated the grand finale between Havelocks and Kandy. They did a very good job and endeared themselves with local fans and players alike. There was hardly any moaning if any to be frank. Maybe reluctant grumblings of discontent. More so, those who moan didn’t see their team win. 

We can all agree that it was a great initiative by SLR (Sri Lanka Rugby) and the referee’s society. That being the deployment of these overseas pros, fondly known as “foreign refs”. Anything “foreign” has a certain attraction and Teflon coated nature about it. 

I have a question though… As far as local refs go, there was a request by local clubs for these crunch games. They wanted a better quality of refereeing and standard. In other words, “they” saw that local refs were a poorer option than having an overseas ref. They– being the clubs: players, coaches, and administrators. 

Boa – Straight UP 

So, being that as it may, clubs request for better referees based on performance. Good or otherwise. If a ref or group of refs are seen as “bad” in performance. There is usually a lot of baggage which follows this. Debate and branding of such poor performances end up being very personal by spectators who make this known, be it at the grounds or social media. Uncalled for in my opinion. 

ICYMI : Schools rugby week 1; Blue on black Thursday

I can understand accountability and following due process (if such a thing exists). However, scathing and personal attacks are no substitute for the latter. After all, no one is perfect. That goes for fans and players alike. 

Last weekend was the DRL grand finale which Kandy won, as tipped and found by my WIN PREDICTOR, wouldn’t a local ref have wanted a shot at it? Would he or she not want to have it on their CV?

So, based on that same logic of performance evaluation of referees, shouldn’t refs then ask for players with poor performance to be dropped or replaced by foreign or other players? Over the weeks, we have seen plenty of poor to terrible performances from players. Let’s not kid ourselves about that. 

Some of these players needed an UBER-tuk-tuk to be moved from breakdown to breakdown and the level of skill or the lack of– was alarming (especially for club premiership level). 

The number of handling errors and ridiculous forms of, at times, blatantly illegal play and laziness are astounding. For example, the DRL grand finale saw one side infringe six in a row by not showing clear release in the tackle area. When pulled up for it, pleading ignorance or putting up an embarrassing excuse that they were “ignorant” of the law. 

Referees, local or otherwise don’t ask or coach players and teams to play in this manner and they sure don’t tell them to make a truckload of handling errors. We can all agree on that. 

That onus is firmly on the players and support staff to pick up their game. 

The reason I ask, having foreign refs for all crunch games in the long term is not sustainable. SL have plenty of refs and how are they going to learn or get better (with or) without–on the job experience? 

This is not to criticize local refs performance or glorify foreigners… I am simply asking a valid question… How are they going to get better and when are they going to be “good enough” to be officiating the “crunch games”? 

2031? or maybe 2040? 

Last weekend was the DRL grand finale which Kandy won, as tipped and found by my WIN PREDICTOR, wouldn’t a local ref have wanted a shot at it? Would he or she not want to have it on their CV? 

In my view, with the growth of the game in SL, officiating is that one area which is struggling or perceived to be struggling in the eyes of most stakeholders. 

That said, it is not always the ref’s fault and SL do have a few, very good refs. We need to be fair to them as a society. 

Players, teams, and coaches need to be held accountable and can’t be outright absolved of underperforming or bad play. In my view, this area is conveniently overlooked and local rugby IQ, as it is, looks for a scapegoat and dumps it ALL on the officiating. 

It is not unique only to SL rugby, we see plenty of such evidence even at the highest level of the sport and the current Super rugby. Stats and numbers of playing patterns and their game management/performance don’t lie. 

This is a legitimate issue and what’s the process to see that our own refs are competent to be handling all games? Gap stopping them at every crucial juncture with overseas temps is NOT the answer. 

Short term, it has certainly made a huge difference but there MUST be a template and “hard drive” to bank these learnings so the local officials, can download and update themselves.