Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Cummings going

So farewell then Stuart Cummings. After 13 years - it really doesn't feel that long - he's stepping down as the RFL's controller of match officials.

As with any job, he's had challenges and successes. The big success has been to oversee the move to full-time professional referees, the biggest change in officiating the game since the limited tackle rule was introduced. Never before have our referees been better prepared, and yet never before has the level of opprobrium dished out to officials seemed to be higher.

Frankly, refereeing a modern game of rugby league is an impossible job and, at the risk of sounding like a stuck record, the whole codification needs a thorough going over. For starters, there needs to be a one body responsible for setting down the rules and those rules should be played the world over, not picked at like some sort of rule buffet. Only then will we stand a chance of a coherent framework for the future. It's sheer lunacy that the two major leagues in the world play to an increasingly different rulebook and the ugly compromise that dwells under the banner 'international rules' should never need to come about. At this stage, it's not important what the rules are so long as there's one set and everyone plays to them. Then comes the challenge of making them 'right'.

The USP of rugby league ought to be it's simplicity, but the current code is so nuanced and contains so many areas open to interpretation that inconsistency is built in to the system and it's that inconsistency that so angers fans, fans not normally slow in reaching for the bumper book of conspiracy theories. Have in mind what you want the end product to look like. Then take a blank sheet of paper, write on it "six tackles then hand over, 4 for a try, 2 for a goal, 1 for a drop-goal" and go from there. Anything with more than two clauses should be discarded. Anything requiring a clarifying footnote should be dismissed. Make it black and white and get referees to police those rules and not coach players through games. I refuse to believe that it's that hard.

Every major sport has one set of rules with one body responsible for them except rugby league. Until that situation is rectified, whoever is in charge of match officials will find progress difficult to make.

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