Can referees please get back in their box?

Referees are everywhere at the moment.

We have seen the back of Steve Ganson’s head more often than anyone should this season, thanks to Sky Sports, and their idiotic notion that we somehow need to see two middle-aged blokes in suits struggling with technology every time a decision goes up to the video ref.

The sport, any sport, is meant to be about players, so why are referees becoming increasingly central?

We have a camera on their heads, so we can even get action replays of them talking to players.

Not only do Sky have more commentators than anyone else, they also have a referee in there, purely to comment on what referees do during the game.

Every single decision is discussed in agonising detail, with the refereeing ‘punditry’ often being delivered over moments of genuine match action, as though it was a priority. It is even more boring than an evening with Phil Clarke’s Margin Meter.

The game is the most exciting sport on the planet. It is meant to be all about the action, not on how some ref interprets interference at the play-the-ball.

There is a long tradition in rugby league of barracking the referee, but it has begun to overtake everything else in the game. Even the coaches are getting stuck into them in public now, as though we were soccer. Although there are surely some fans who could mount a convincing argument that they probably deserve it at the moment.

Nathan Brown’s war of words with Shaun Wane in the wake of the Wigan-St Helens clash on Friday marked the onset of a new intensity to it all.

Maybe Brown’s reasons for saying what he said are part of an astute plan to upset Wigan. It certainly worked in that regard.

But Wane himself made comments about Ben Thaler’s performance as video referee, and the whole thing begins to look like a game which cannot control itself.

If referees really want to be the celebrities, and the structures are in place to make them so, then we should be worried as a sport.

No one wants rugby league to end up like the NFL, where there often seem to be more officials than players on the park, and decisions are announced with great performance and fanfare.

The sport is about players, always has been and always will be, and their supporters in the stands.

Putting referees front and centre is getting things back to front. The sport needs to re-evaluate just why we have match officials, or we risk looking silly, as well as alienating a large chunk of our support.

And alienating anyone is the last thing that we need at this moment in time.

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