Match Official Abuse and Appealing, Backchat and Challenging

Michael Priestley

Chair, Rugby Football Referees Union CB


Dear Society and Federation Executives

You will recall that I wrote to you previously asking you to reinforce through your Match Officials a strong approach towards sustainment of Game Values. At that time we asked you to implement a Zero Tolerance towards appealing, questioning of decisions and general backchat. This followed on from a concerted effort made within the Professional Game to enforce the core values.

Sadly, and as many of you will know, since the restart of rugby as COVID restrictions were lowered, there has been a worrying rise in Match Official abuse (physical and verbal), not only in adult rugby but also in the age grade game. Equally, appealing, backchat and challenging have not gone away.

Therefore, we are asking you again to refresh your stance in relation to behaviour that goes against the core game values.

To support your match officials in taking a strong stance we felt it important to let you know what is happening more widely to counteract poor behaviours. Much work has been done to assist in ensuring that poor behaviours is appropriately dealt with. Shortly, there will be publication of definitions of verbal abuse which will help Disciplinary Panels deal with reported incidents in robust and consistent ways. There is also to be a review of the sanctions that can be imposed to ensure miscreants are dealt with so the “punishment fits the crime”.  There is also to be an update to training available to CB Discipline members.

I am sure you will all have seen some, if not all, of the Game Values campaign. There is also the available CMOD module that can help with training your match officials in communications and dealing with behaviours. And the issue is also dealt with as part of the ERRA module on communications.

RFU Discipline is now including cases from the Community Game in their reporting so that a wide audience can see that the behaviour is not acceptable and will be dealt with accordingly.

In terms of on field matters, please direct your Match Officials to engage Captains (and where possible Coaches) before a game and as part of a pre match brief make it completely clear that they should encourage players to avoid:

  • Waving arms during live play – appealing
  • Calling for decisions
  • Giving a Referee backchat or challenging following a decision

If Referees have to deal with this behaviour, they can follow a simple process – Speak to the Player on the first occasion; warn the Captain on the second occasion; Penalise on the third occasion. However, if an incident is deemed serious enough the player may be penalised on the first occasion. If this simple escalation does not solve the matter, then sanctions available can be escalated accordingly.

In terms of any incident that an Official deems to be Match Official Abuse, we strongly encourage that it is reported accordingly using the relevant form. Any words or actions should be reported in as much detail as possible and actual words used should be included in the report (as unpleasant as this may be it is essential to report fully and accurately). Anyone who witnessed the behaviour should also be identified within the report. This should be done in a timely fashion and the Captain / Coach / Administrator of the Club should be advised that an incident of Match Official abuse is being reported.

Should you have any queries, please do not hesitate to contact by email Ian Woodgate, Hon Sec RFRU – IanWoodgate

Mike Priestley