You couldn’t even ref yourselves: A reality check

Why you are the cause of your misplaced hatred of referees: A brief history.

Spencer Kassimir

Why you are the cause of your misplaced hatred of referees: a brief history.


Once upon a time, there were games with no referees. Gentlemen were said to simply play the game in pursuit of the Muscular Christianity ideals of self-improvement and fair play, manly and gentile.

The only problem is that this is entirely a lie and, at best, grossly misrepresenting the facts we know to be true.

In the beginning, captains and players were the referees. Maybe this is a technicality but the role encompassed more than just playing the game and leading the team. Thus, we recognise that there has always been a need for decision makers where disputes occurred.Where there would be a referee or umpire to solve a dispute, the captains on the field, would come together and have a discussion and then find the sporting solution to their problems. The same was for the touchlines but with players filling these roles.

Thus, we can see that, no matter who was charged with the duty of refereeing, it has been and will likely always be needed whether a disagreement is the result of blatant cheating, a difference in interpreting the laws, and/or viewing an act differently due to parallax.

Now, whether you believe having captains in such a role is a pie in the sky bad idea or you truly think that people 150 years ago were more honourable than today, the result is the same. We now have separate people, with a distanced bias, in the role of referees and umpires.

Having players on a team, in any capacity was always a bad idea even though the concept was in alignment with the zeitgeist of those seeking personal improvement through the zeitgeist of Muscular Christianity. First and foremost, this was a bad idea that led to lots of problems due to perceived and actual biases. Eventually, in many football codes, these polite debates on how to solve a dispute ended up in good old-fashioned fisticuffs.

When there is a perceived bias to begin with, it is already hard enough to come to a decision over the distance of five yards. Now imagine a situation where a defending side claims that the attacking player stepped out of bounds 90 yards away from the goal, thereby disallowing the points scored but the attacking side claims that there was no such infraction. Do you simply agree to split the difference?

Mind you, in the sports where spectatorship has always been encouraged such as Aussie rules, baseball American and Canadian gridirons, and rugby league, fans have and still do go ballistic over bad decisions and have always been vocally supportive to the home team and dissenting of advantage towards a visiting side.

©Andy Hooper/ Daily Mail

Let’s take a moment to put ourselves into the shoes of spectators of these times. Imagine, you have travelled, possibly for miles on foot and, if you were wealthy, horseback, to watch a game as part of your one day of the week you did not work to be entertained by the great athletes and get your mind off of your troubles. You show up at the ground and BAM! You find yourself sitting in the freezing rain watching a bunch of guys sitting around practicing their negotiation tactics after every single disagreement! Imagine what spectators were thinking… ‘this is not interesting. I could have gone to a courtroom to watch this. This is not what I want to be doing on my one day off…’

Not only was this gentlemanly ideal tedious for the players but it was awful for the crowds. Though there were times when things became interesting again in cases where punches were thrown and melees occurred but this was not the norm.

You read it here first. You the player and you the fan are to blame for us having referees. Players, you couldn’t work it out amongst yourselves; fans you couldn’t stand watching the players not figure it out! You demanded referees yet today, you both revile those you demanded.

But the history of how we got here is quite fascinating.

If we need referees, who will do it for free? The answer is very few since even the lowest levels and youngest ages of competition in most sports are given some financial incentive.

From the old perspective, if players are not permitted to be paid, why should referees? Some would say there is glory and other gains from being a part of the competition but very little of this for one who officiates. Moreover, it may be needed to ensure fairplay and consistency in the competition.

In sports with an early form of professionalism that was more like subsidised amateurism through “broken time” in work, like rugby league, how much should referees be paid? The status quo has that is held today is exponentially less. Today’s NRL player average is $371,000 whereas the referee’s is around $173,000.

NRL referees are paid considerably less than the average NRL player ©NRL

If they are paid, and they too are part-time, there should not be an expectation that calls will be made correctly all the time, however, we want them to have the knowledge of full-time professionals without paying them to be because we want the right decision. Clearly, there is a disconnect since, unlike players, referees do not receive the admiration and support of the stands. As such, should we take into account that the referees will cop flack from the crowd for every call regardless of it being right or wrong? If we pay them full-time, why are we not paying our athletes full-time wages? If we are paying our athletes professional wages, and they still make mistakes, should we pay referees full-time as well, and if we do, should they make the same as the athletes?

So many questions and so few words to fit in one article especially since this all comes down to a single point of origin. Whether or not referees are paid enough is a matter of opinion but they are paid less for a job that has arguably higher stakes. Even with video reviews, many would argue that it makes the job easier but it also makes the line even thinner to walk for those that are also obligated to keep the game moving at an enjoyable pace for viewers.

Players couldn’t and still can’t handle refereeing themselves and fans are still as unhappy with the results over 100-150 years later. As a result, we still have a completely inconsistent set of expectations for those charged with the sacred duty in ensuring adherence to the laws and spirit of the game while having them do so for a fraction of the pay.  If we need referees, who will do it for free? The answer is very few since even the lowest levels and youngest ages of competition in most sports are given some financial incentive.

Spencer Kassimir

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