It must be the adrenalin rush that makes men volunteer to serve as rugby referees.
You never know when next you are likely to be punched or kicked or beaten unconscious to the ground. It gives life an edge that is not present in many other occupations, other than being a circus lion tamer.
But every now and then, after one too many bottles has cracked your skull and the stream of obscenities directed at your mother’s parentage has reached epic proportions, you decide enough is enough.
That is what the Western Province Referees’ Association did on behalf of its members the other day – it went on strike.
It is difficult to play a match without a referee, though the Atlantics of Mount Pleasant, Hermanus, and the Black Leaves of Gansbaai came close recently when for once they let the ref off the hook and proceeded to donner one another.
Usually, though, it’s the ref who gets it in the neck, or various other parts of his person, by members of the losing team.
One of the reasons why referees keep so fit is that it enables them to outrun aggrieved players and spectators after the game. But clearly more is needed, beginning with danger pay.
Armed guards would also be a help. They could run up and down the touchlines with the touch judges, at the ready to dash on to the field should the ref require reinforcements.
Even at school level it’s a problem, though the abuse levelled at referees by fanatical fathers tends to be no more than verbal.
An old Wynberg schoolmate of mine sent all three sons to SACS, and at their matches ran up and down the touchline informing the ref, at the top of his voice, that he was unfit to adjudicate at a game of marbles, let alone spot a blatant scrum infringement. He barely escaped banning. This was confirmed to me by the then headmaster, Gordon Law, at a supper party the other evening.
He summoned the father to his office and told him that if ever he screamed at anybody during school rugby again, he would be permanently barred from the school precincts.
Frank had himself been a great character in his own rugby-playing days, and would tell you in detail how he had outwitted the opposition and scored his more memorable tries.
While his teammates celebrated with beer, he drank only Oros, to which he attributed much of his success. Sportingly, he never attacked a referee, even the one he informed you afterwards was totally incompetent.
Overseas players are as bad as ours. In New Zealand last year, at a schoolboy game in Auckland, a referee was strangled, fortunately not to death, and in Dunedin a player punched a ref who gave him a red card.
During a French match a ref was knocked out, and in Argentina a woman ref was dive-tackled to the ground, from behind.
So why do it?
Because, like George Mallory’s reason for climbing Everest, rugby is there. But without refs, it wouldn’t be.
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