It is currently half time in the Six Nations rugby game between Italy and Ireland. The game is being played eight months late because of the reason. My wife is American and so is not familiar with rugby (or, if I am honest, particular interested in spectator sports), so I sometimes find myself explaining things. Today she asked why the players in rugby are so much better behaved than in Association Football (aka soccer).
The reason, in my opinion, is that in rugby (more properly Rugby Union Football), the referee has a microphone on his chest, so the viewing audience would hear whatever a rugby player said in argument. There is also an explicit rule in rugby union: “[A penalty may be awarded for] contesting or dissenting from a referee’s decision, or using abusive language or conduct towards any match official.” (source)
There are many things about rugby that could be introduced into soccer, to make the latter a better game. Microphones on referees is one.
Video referees (TMO – television match official) were introduced to rugby union in 2000, sixteen years before soccer added them. Historically, soccer’s governing body (FIFA) had opposed any development which could not be replicated in a school, or on a playing field. While this is a noble idea, since the introduction of VAR (video assistant referee) many decisions have been corrected that would otherwise have affected the result of games, and tournaments.
But there are other features of rugby that could be copied into other sports.
In rugby, for example, when play stops, the clock is stopped. And the game lasts exactly as long as the game is advertised to run, according to the clock visible to fans and players alike. In soccer, the referee adds an arbitrary amount of time to the end of the game which is either more or less than the actual amount of play time lost to stoppages.
In soccer, male players are infamous for rolling around on the floor pretending to be injured, trying to get accommodations from the referee. Not only is it offensive to watch (and my wife often stops watching when a certain Brazilian player and his ilk start doing it), but it also affects children who want to emulate the stars that they watch on TV and in the stadia. There is nothing more tragic than watching a six year old rolling around on the floor instead of playing a fun game.
In rugby, players behave, and soccer could do with emulating this, either through rules, through social pressure, or through punitive measures.
Finally, yellow cards. In both soccer and rugby, serious infractions of the game’s rules result in the referee punishing the player with a yellow card. In soccer, this has no implications unless a second yellow card is awarded to that player. In rugby, a yellow card results in ten minutes off of the field.
In the Manchester United versus Chelsea Premiership match today, two players cynically fouled players to stop their teams from being put under pressure, and both players reacted not at all to their yellow-card treatment. Reducing a team, temporarily, to ten men (or women) would result in more rule-abiding behavior by the players.
Soccer could improve by emulating rugby, but rugby’s not perfect either. The scrum has become a meaningless part of the game. The ball is never put into the scrum in the center, and if the scrum does not collapse, the team that put the ball in invariably retains possession. But this is a trivial concern compared with the problems in soccer.
Soccer’s not the only game that could learn from rugby. So too could gridiron football, or American football. The two most obvious are the concussions caused by helmets, and the stoppages that make up more than half the game-time.
Concussions in Gridiron football
The concussions caused by gridiron football need to end. At some point, gridiron risks being banned entirely from schools and colleges (if money stops being all that matters to American culture). A solution, as I see it, is to gradually change Gridiron rules, over the course of years, so that they become closer to rugby. If they could eventually be merged, perhaps with some concessions from the RFU (the Rugby Football Union), Canada and the USA would join the world’s prime rugby-playing nations, without losing all the fans from which gridiron currently benefits.
What do you think? Can association football, gridiron football, and rugby be improved by learning from each other?