I stand with the referees
I stand with them because they are exercising their rights under Australian law to have the agreement they made with the National Rugby League adhered to. Under this contract there is no ability for the NRL to change the refereeing model until 2022. In a world where rugby league fans complain that ‘contracts aren’t worth the paper they’re written on”, the least the games’ organising body can do is walk the walk.
I stand with them because rugby league is meant to be the game of the working man. It began because working men demanded to be paid for their labour. It exists because an entire class of people were told their well-being wasn’t as important as the privilege of wealthy people. Those people decided standing together was more important than the desires of the powerful.
I stand with the referees because rugby league should be about standing up for equality. Sometimes it is. It was the sport that had the first indigenous person to captain the national side. It had the first black man to captain Great Britain and England. It was the first major men’s sport in the country to have an openly gay player at the elite level. And when Ian Roberts came out, Steve Roach and Peter Stirling stood with him, because that’s what rugby league is about. I am proud the game stood with the LGBTQI community when it mattered and other games didn’t, and I am proud it’s started to build a women’s game. Rugby league needs everyone, even referees.
I stand with them because this change will do nothing to improve or future-proof the game. This will slow the ruck. It will lead to more missed misdemeanours. It will do nothing to create the ‘free-flowing football’ that exists only in the anemoia of broken down old men. We know this because the coaches have said it. We know this because the players have said it. No one thinks this will work.
I stand with the referees because I care about the heath and safety of our players. You want to talk about future proofing the game? Two referees will always be better at one at seeing when there is a need to stop the game, a need to identify a concussion and they’ll be crucial in ensuring the game can last through the future as chronic traumatic encephalopathy comes for the sport (and it will).
I stand with them because process is important. When you ignore the players, when you ignore the coaches and you ignore every major stakeholder in the game to implement a change, it’s not OK. When you make a decision to change the nature of a competition after that competition has already started you undermine the legitimacy of it. When you add complexity to an environment where players and coaches are already scrambling to put together a season you are needlessly complicating things. This dispute forces the National Rugby League to actually explain to the referees, and the Fair Work Commission why it’s doing what it’s doing.
I stand with the referees even though they make mistakes. I remember the six again call. I was sitting in the stands with my head in my hands. I remember when Matt Ceccin binned Jack Wighton in the 2016 preliminary final and I will never forgive him for that. I remember when the referees ignored the touch judge’s flag and somehow awarded a try against the Sharks in 2018. I remember the errors because referees make errors, like players do, like coaches do, like administrators do and like I do.
I stand with the referees and I know that’s not popular. I know most will see this an another obstacle to the game returning on May 28 (although, as the referee’s union has pointed out, this will be handled by Fair Work well before that). I know some will see it as selfish by the referees, because they too know what it’s like to suffer at the hands of their boss. I know some will see it as opportunistic, as if there was a better time to fight this fight.
I stand with them as I stand with anyone that is having their employment threatened, now and always. When so many are losing their jobs, homes and communities to the despair caused by coronavirus, it galls me that the ‘workers game’ would happily push people out of jobs on a whim. Yes the game is a businesses, and yes it’s entertainment. That doesn’t mean it can’t be more than that. For too long our society has valued the views of the powerful over the dignity of the many. We have an opportunity to create a community that operates as the world should, and instead we spend it kicking the most vulnerable for shits and clicks.
I stand with the referees, because it’s the right thing to do.
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