Violence on the part of participants and spectators in rugby has become reason for concern. It is a cause for worry as this has happened repeatedly at schools matches. It remains a serious ground for concern. Violence on the playing field sets a bad eample for vulnerable young athletes as well as the weak follower.
Unruly crowd behaviour can spoil a pleasant outing of those who come to enjoy a game. As seen in the recent past it can ruin a game as well as a sport which otherwise has won respect. When what should not have happened happens the next is to build conspiracy theories that may satisfy the ego of some and probably give instant satisfaction. What should not have happened is that schoolboys should never have been the means to justify the end. On the long run it damages the game as well as all involved. At this point those who are right thinking and who value the spirit of rugby should start asking questions as to what went wrong and what needs to be done.
The easy scapegoat is the referee. That is not going to help without asking how we could sort out the issue of preventing violence and reducing the risk of abandoning a match. Even if the referee was at fault was this the way to sort out issues. Take the mistakes that took place in the world cup football matches. Many countries lost on their next round which included England, Ghana and few others. Yet the game had to go on and not to end up in violence. A study of sport violence by the Australian Institute of Criminology in1989 has some interesting comments and findings.
“There is a range of societal, economic, and cultural factors which come into play, particularly with regard to spectator violence. It has been noted that problems in English soccer are often associated with poor living conditions. The problem is that clubs appear to come from the worst areas in England. Leicester University researchers once examined the addresses of 428 locals arrested at Leicester soccer grounds, and they discovered that one in five came from a particular council estate in which the unemployment rate was 36 per cent and the manual labour rate was 85 per cent”. Have the innocent being led up the garden path?
Should the Ministry of Sports have jumped the gun and given an opinion and requested consideration. Schools rugby comes under the Education Ministry. According to the Director Sports of the Ministry of Education they get an opinion of the Ministry of Sports if there is an issue that needs interpretation. Thus the school having written direct to the Ministry of Education I believe is a violation of protocol in governmental service. The Secretary Ministry of Sport had written to the Secretary Ministry of Education following protocol. The letter requested to consider a replay of the match and to be played for the full length. This letter was copied to the Schools Rugby Football Association. The Schools Section took the view that whatever action they need to take should be directed to them by the Secretary of the Line Ministry and who generally act in terms of the handbook 2010. What happened thereafter is now history and has possibly opened another can of worms.
Can a match be started from the point where it stopped? Rugby rules of the game have not addressed such an issue. Football rules say that an abandoned match is to be replayed unless the competition rules permit otherwise. This gives a degree of discretion. Discretion is also incorporated in the tournament handbook of the Sri Lankan Schools Rugby Football Association. What would have been right for the schools section was to make proper use of the discretion clause and awarded the match to the team that would have otherwise been penalized. Were these clauses studied before the ministry of sports decided to give its opinion? I understand in the tournament rules of “Elle” if a match is abandoned and resumed within 24 hours the game starts where it stopped.
The Canterbury Gold Coast Rugby Carnival for 2009 covers unruly behaviour which may abandon a match. There is a clause added on to the normal, rules that are applicable for abandoned of matches. It reads “if a match is abandoned for any reason involving unacceptable behaviour on the part of players or any other persons or any other similar reason the management committee may determine whether any competition points will be awarded for that match”. The problem as faced today is that of a knock out tournament and the question should have been should we play or not. If we play; how do we start?
The tournament rules of the Investec Cup 2009 (Super 14) have similar rules to what Sri Lanka has in its various tournaments for abandoned matches. This is: a) where a match is abandoned at half time or at any time in the second half the result will stand. B) Where a match is abandoned in the first half the result will stand. c) If a semi final is declared a draw the winner shall be determined according to the tie breaker rules. These are the rules applicable to extra time.
Our issue requires action in line with the rules of the “Gold Coast” rules where the match is abandoned due to unacceptable behaviour by spectators. The importance of recognition of the existence of a match being abandoned due to unacceptable behaviour should have happened as the threat has always been there. Whatever decision that is or was taken should have the future in mind. The decision should have been punitive to prevent recurrence than just to say the match should be a rematch. That is where the tournament rules have to recognize such possibilities and have discretion clauses for the tournament committee to decide. What is important is to understand why a match was abandoned. Was it due to natural causes or manmade reasons? If there is no punitive action for unacceptable behaviour it may be taken as precedence and a means to stop a match and ask for a replay when the dice is against you. Even to stop a match and claim victory when you face the heat in the second half. Therefore the ruling of the Ministry I believe is misplaced and has not considered the all connected issues that can affect the game.
The subsequent action of not getting on the field is equally or more serious and looks like a school has been lead to placing its head on the chopping board. The action that was taken I believe comes under willfully refusing to play. If the schools rugby association took the decision as allowed by S 23 of the handbook 2010 and the decision is final and as stated the issue is a grave one.
*Vimal Perera is a former Rugby Referee, coach and Accredited Referees Evaluator IRB