Welsh fly-half Dan Biggar has been called out on more than one occasion in this year’s Six Nations for his remonstrations with referees, which was most recently highlighted with his treatment of referee Glen Jackson in his side’s 37-27 loss to Ireland on 24th February.
Biggar was caught shouting at the referee on more than one occasion during the heavyweight clash, most notably when he felt that he was deserving of a penalty when tackled in the air immediately before the third Irish try.
Whilst football has developed a reputation for not showing enough respect towards match officials, rugby has a proud history of good conduct towards those who officiate the game.
Picking out Dan Biggar here is not to say that he is a disrespectful player, as he is a professional with 61 caps for his country, and he is certainly not the only rugby player to overstep the boundaries when it comes to dealing with referees.
A number of commentators, however, have called for Biggar to change his ways in the wake of his conduct in the last month. Former Welsh international, and British and Irish Lion, Martyn Williams said that complaining is “something that [Biggar] must take out of his game” and that his behaviour regarding referees is “unacceptable”.
Wales’s head coach Warren Gatland, however, has viewed Biggar’s actions in a different way, suggesting that he was simply being “passionate” and that “there’s nothing wrong with a player … showing a bit of passion”.
There is little doubt that Biggar and every other rugby player exhibits a great deal of passion when they step onto a rugby pitch; as with all sports, it is extremely emotionally charged. Despite this, the excuse of “passion” cannot be used to justify the abuse of referees by players.
This is a problem not only in the professional game, but throughout all levels of rugby and other sports.
A Daily Telegraph investigation in 2016 surveyed over 100 rugby referees and found that 67% had experienced abuse on the field, 90% of which was verbal and 10% of which was physical.
These figures suggest a worrying, rising trend of disrespect in the game at all levels and is something that must be combatted.
One of the most important ways in which this should be challenged is through rising awareness of the abuse that referees face weekly and highlight their importance in the game.
The job of the match officials is different to that of the players, yet is equally difficult. The referee stands at the centre of the game under great scrutiny and pressure from the players and fans around them. Keeping control of such a physical and technical game is exceptionally tricky, and it must be understood that without the dedication, professionalism and skill of the people that officiate rugby matches, there would be no game.
Players such as Dan Biggar should make great attempts to change their ways, as the popularity of the game and widespread media coverage in the modern age makes their actions visible to millions of people worldwide. Role models such as Biggar should see it as a duty to lead by example and teach the future generations in the stands or at home the proud tradition of respect that rugby has.
Rugby should be seen as a progressive and inclusive sport, yet this cannot happen if there is no respect for all of the people you share a pitch with.
It will be interesting to see if Biggar has listened to his critics in recent weeks and will compose himself more appropriately in the remaining games of the 2018 Six Nations.
Passion, desire and frustration are all important aspects of sport and the game of rugby, yet they should not mean that the invaluable referees feel abused.
Image courtesy of NAPARAZZI