You have to have rules for sport to take place and you have to have referees to enforce those rules.
That’s what makes the emphasis of yesterday’s launch of a strategic plan for refereeing in the GAA such an important one. Much of the media coverage this morning centres on the challenges of being a referee and the abuse which is unacceptable but has become an ugly part of so many games.
The overall vision for the Referee Development Plan is “To recruit, develop and inspire referees to reach their full potential and officiate at the highest level, and control our games, uniformly and consistently, in accordance with the playing rules.”
Blaming officials is often a fairly quick resort from beaten players and managers. It starts early with the youngest of kids absorbing what they see and hear in adult games and feeling hard done by when a game is lost.
The number of young boys and girls coming into refereeing remains solid given the fact that there are a few Euros available on a Saturday morning which helps to pay for a trip to the shops or even a night out later.
The challenge though is to keep them going. In certain sports around Dublin at present, the travel time between games for a referee can be as big a determinant in the timing of games as pitch availability.
The plan unveiled yesterday highlights five key areas where advance and development is sought. They are to increase recruitment at club level, to enhance referee education, to develop a mentoring programme, streamline governance and expand a national fitness regime.
“I am delighted to launch the Referee Development Plan today and thank the National Referee’s Committee for their efforts in this regard,” said GAA president John Horan.
“They have set out a number of interesting and challenging objectives and I look forward to the work that will be carried out at National level and in the provinces and counties as we strive to reach the targets set down.”
“Of course, the launch of the plan is the first step on its implementation. In addition to other work being carried out in the refereeing area, there will be a focus on achieving the goals set out in this Development Plan over the next three years. I know that counties and provinces strive for improvement and, I expect, that this plan will assist them in their endeavours.”
Rugby is held up as a prime example of how officials are treated with greater respect. That, in turn, gives greater confidence in opening up their thinking to the crowd and the TV audience through referee microphones.
TG4 has experimented with a referee camera on officials in the Ladies Football Championship and there is truth in the fact that the more we know the more we understand.
The way in which referees are treated in the GAA at the moment is far from ideal. Hopefully, this is a step in the right direction.
Image Credit Piaras O Midheach, Sportsfile