Respect for referees must start with players

Share this story

The pile-on directed at NRL referee Kasey Badger in the wake of last Saturday’s clash between Canterbury and the Wests Tigers must be a line in the sand moment for the game.

It all started with a lack of respect shown by the players on the field, followed by vile social media comments, and then finished off with a weak response by the NRL.

Let’s start with the players.

As much as gender shouldn’t come in to the discussion about how referees are treated, there is no question that the image of a towering David Klemmer over Badger last weekend is bad for the game.

In the current climate where we’re finally getting real about domestic violence and the treatment of men towards women, it’s a picture the NRL simply doesn’t need.

And it’s not what we need kids sitting at home on a Saturday afternoon watching the footy in their lounge rooms seeing either.

David Klemmer speaking with Kasey Badger. Photo: NRL Photos.

I was watching this game on Saturday and it was clear that Badger had lost control of it at some stage, long before Klemmer was eventually sent to the sin bin for dissent.

Plenty of referees lose control of games, especially rookie referees and especially in matches not involving the top tier, more disciplined teams.
And when that happens, you can bet the cesspit that is X (formerly Twitter) is alive with disgusting, inappropriate and foul comments.

Indeed, this criticism of referees happens regardless of gender.

But as I was watching X light up last Saturday, it was clear much of the vitriol was indeed gender-specific, mainly from low IQ trolls telling her to get back into the kitchen. Other comments were much worse.

Not surprisingly, so many of the accounts are hidden behind fake names because they are too scared and weak to ever put their real identity behind such comments.

Sadly, they probably have wives, girlfriends, daughters and mothers.

At the end of the day, they are idiots confirming they are idiots.

But that’s the thing, we know anyone with an X account can be a big hero behind their keyboard or phone.

Clint Gutherson and Mitch Moses arguing with the referee. Photo: NRL Photos.

The real issue I have here is with the players and the NRL.

For too long it’s just been an accepted part of the game that players continue to remonstrate with the referee at every opportunity.

Some players do it more than others. Clint Gutherson and Mitchell Moses at Parramatta could fly to the moon with the amount of wind they get underneath their arms constantly complaining about everything.

Hookers constantly whinging to the referee that the play-the-ball is not quick enough, desperate for a penalty, is now commonplace in every game.

I get that this is high pressure, elite sport. But in the 40 years I’ve been watching rugby league, a referee has never changed their mind as a result of a whinge from a player.

Truth is this is all strategy, all an attempt to get under the skin of a referee, to get them questioning themselves. But given there’s two teams out there often doing the same thing, it’s pretty counter-productive and pointless.

Our players need to start acting better, not like little school kids who’ve been told off for being naughty.

There needs to be a strong message to players that the wider community is taking their penchant to complain about referees to heart, and is repeating the criticism in a different way: through online abuse.

If the players do it, why can’t the fans?

Players are smart enough not to make sexist or vile remarks to referees, but their behaviour still influences those watching at home.

And what of the NRL in all of this?

CEO Andrew Abdo and Head of Football Graham Annesley both spoke passionately about respecting referees this week.

But Klemmer’s outburst at Badger on Saturday – his third contrary conduct offence in recent times – saw him slapped on the wrist with a $3000 fine.

The offence actually carries a two match ban if he was found guilty at the judiciary, but an early plea meant he didn’t miss a single game and was handed a fine that I personally doubt the players actually pay anyway.

In contrast, the NRL proposed a $20,000 fine to Nine broadcaster and Bulldogs General Manager Phil Gould last week over comments he made on television about the NRL being “stupid”.

In other words, the NRL are sensitive enough about Gould’s criticism to whack him with a $20,000 penalty, but their protection of their referees being abused by players extends only to a $3,000 fine.

Something doesn’t add up there.

Kasey Badger speaking with John Bateman. Photo: NRL Photos.

The truth is our referees on a whole do a great job. They make thousands of decisions in a game, and get just a handful wrong.

The number of Captain’s Challenges that are unsuccessful only prove that what fans and players see sometimes is through a particularly bias eye.

Even The Bunker, for all its criticism, gets it right in more than 99 per cent of cases. The odd howler will always happen when you’ve got a human in control.

In fact, I dare say that commentators in games are so regularly corrected by Graham Annesley come Monday afternoon, that they get more wrong looking at the same replays than The Bunker does.

Quite simply, there is no game without the officials. And if we don’t start respecting them, they’ll only get harder and harder to find as the years go on.

Troy Dodds

Troy Dodds is the Weekender's Managing Editor and Breaking News Reporter. He has more than 20 years experience as a journalist, working with some of Australia's leading media organisations. In 2023, he was named Editor of the Year at the Mumbrella Publish Awards.

Share this story