Mind Your Language – The Referees

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I’m back to a favourite topic of mine, the unfairness of language in rugby.

It takes a different slant this time. I concentrate solely on the eighteen referees designated to cover the three levels of the WXV (full list below).

First, congratulations to all of them. The referees’ assessment board goes to inordinate lengths to analyse their performances and grade them accordingly. No surprise then that the names Sara Cox and Aimee Barrett-Theron figure among the six to officiate Tier One games. Both have reffed more internationals than any other women on earth.

My problem is the first language of all eighteen. Among the top six it’s English, with all its distinctive variations; in Tier Two it’s English (4), France and Italian (1 each), though both Groizeleau and Munarini have an excellent command of English.

In Tier Three we find less familar names and less dependence on English. Four of the six do not have English as their native tongue, though we can expect all of them to give their explanations in competent English.

My concern is that the primacy given to English on field is grotesquely unfair.

Players work desperately hard to reach International standard, but those whose first language is not English are placed at an immediate disadvantage. Is that fair? No!

The French have long been forced into accepting that they must suffer in this way. Referee after referee will chat away to them in a version of English, almost always finishing with the one truly global word, ‘Okay?’ I long to see or hear a player shake her head vigorously to indicate she hasn’t understood a word said to her. Where do we go from there?

Of course, players must be expected to know every law of the game, but that doesn’t begin to cover all the points a ref may want to make.

The problem goes back to the time when the world authority (it may have been the old IRB or its replacement, WR) decreed that refs should give a running commentary, to help the game run more smoothly. This at once led to the barriers I’ve just outlined. Hand signals are now required from all referees; fine, but they cover only a limited part of the onfield activity.

It’s not for me to pass judgement on the three lists below, but it’s significant that only English-speakers are honoured with the top-tier games. Despite that, one of the six nations involved does not have English as an official language, France of course.

I find it hard to believe that Groizeleau and Munarini are not just as good as, if not better than a couple of referees in WXV1. They are certainly more experienced.

We can only hope that none of the eighteen competing nations finish the tournament feeling they have been hard done by. English may be the current universal language, but in the heat of a rugby battle, that is not a guarantee of equality.

The List:

Aimee Barrett-Theron (RSA)
Maggie Cogger-Orr (NZ)
Sara Cox (RFU)
Hollie Davidson (SRU)
Lauren Jenner (NZR)
Amber McLachlan (RA)

Natarsha Ganley (NZR)
Aurélie Groizeleau (FFR)
Clara Munarini (FIR)
Kat Roche (USA)
Precious Pazani (Zim)
Holly Wood (RFU)

Doriane Domenjo (FFR)
Ella Goldsmith (RA)
Ano Kuwai (JRU)
Maria Latos (DRB)
Amelia Luciano (USA)
Adele Robert (FBRB)