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Nigel Owens says football can learn a lot from rugby

Nigel Owens

Former international referee Nigel Owens has told William Hill football can learn a lot from rugby union when it comes to the value of respect and the way the sport deals with on-field issues, but says adding microphones to football referees like they do in rugby union may not be the answer due to the bad language that may arise.

There has long been talk of how football can improve upon the issue of player respect towards referees, and ex-rugby union international official Owens has laid out how it can draw some inspiration from his sport.

“Rugby can’t take the moral high ground over any other sport as there’s lot of things that rugby can and needs to do better and can learn from other sports as well,” Owens told William Hill. “But what football can learn from rugby is the value of respect and the way it deals with issues. When issues do arise in rugby, rugby deals with it.

“In football they don’t seem to deal with the issues that arise, certainly not firmly enough. Let’s not hide it, players will try and take a dive in rugby to con the referee, we’ve seen it happen. But what rugby does is that, if the referee doesn’t deal with it at the time, it will be dealt with properly through the citing process after the game.

“What football doesn’t do enough is, when you have a player diving, clearly conning the referee and cheating in the game to win a penalty, there doesn’t seem to be any proper regular repercussions for the player’s actions afterwards.

“What football can learn is how they can deal with issues in the game, particularly around respect, and bring in a more regular and thorough citing procedure where they can clearly see if a player is behaving in an unacceptable way towards his opposition and towards the match officials. There should be a more regular and thorough process in place where it can be dealt with as a citing process afterwards.

“Also, I’ve had conversations with some football referees, and I know the way some of them speak to the players as well, so that respect has to work both ways. I know some football referees will actually swear at players on the field, that’s the way they deal with the players, and that’s become the norm unfortunately in football. So there has to be a change in behaviour from the officials as well. Football definitely can learn from rugby when it comes to the value of respect and dealing with issues. But like I said, rugby can learn from football and other sports as well in other areas of the game.”

Rugby union referees are microphoned up during matches and many claim football should follow suit so that decisions from officials are made clearer to those watching on TV and to help improve player discipline. However, Owens is not so sure how effective this would be for football due to bad language from players.

“If you mic up football referees like they do with rugby referees then there would need to be lots of bleeps on Match of the Day for the first few weeks! That’s for sure,” Owens said. “They’ve tried it in the past quite a few years ago and all you heard was swearing and bad language, so I’m not so sure.

“But we hear it quite a lot in rugby now too when you’re watching a live game. Quite often you hear the commentators apologising for the use of language on the field by rugby players – not shouting at anybody, just in frustration at themselves or at the game, not swearing at the opposition or the referee. So it happens quite a bit, too much in rugby now, where you hear the commentators apologising for the language.

“In football I just can’t imagine what it would be like. Will putting a mic on the referee change the language of the players? I’m not quite sure it will. That’s what needs to happen, but is that the way to do it? Well, just be prepared for a lot of bleeps for the first few weeks, that’s all I can say.

“But certainly, from explaining decisions as to why a yellow card was given, why a goal was disallowed – particularly around VAR – better communication for people to understand why decisions were made would help… But then it’s not that much of an issue in football because the rules in football are much simpler for people to understand and follow than the laws in rugby are.”

Looking ahead to the return of the Six Nations this weekend, Owens believes England will be too strong for Wales on Saturday given their home advantage.

“England at Twickenham is always difficult,” he said. “Not many teams go to Twickenham and win. England are always difficult to beat, even more so at Twickenham. It’s their first home game, they’re going to want to show their fans that they are capable of being up there with the best again and going to France and being in contention for that World Cup again next year.

“I think it will be a tough afternoon for Wales, but if they go there and play some rugby… I think if they try to beat England up front they will play into England’s hands. They need to go up there and spread the ball wide and take those opportunities like they have done in the past, then England are beatable. But if you’re asking me who I think is going to win, obviously my heart says Wales but my head says it’s going to be England because of that home advantage. If they came to Cardiff I’d fancy Wales to turn England over, but going to Twickenham they will be a bit too strong for Wales at home.”