It is not easy being in charge, especially if it is in a highly competitive environment and also the subject of great, and conflicting, emotions. Keeping a cool head in that sort of situation is going to test anyone, no matter how experienced they are.
That is why we should not all be jumping up and down criticising South African rugby referee Craig Joubert for making one mistake. Granted the error in awarding a penalty was crucial as it meant that Scotland was knocked out of the World Cup and that Australia won through with that fateful kick.
World Rugby has since said that having reviewed television coverage of the incident that a penalty was not the right decision. But, of course, the result of the match cannot be changed just because the referee made a mistake.
As a former football (soccer) referee, I can sympathise with Mr Joubert. Referees have always needed to make rapid decisions about events in a match. And they are always expected to get them right; 100% correct, 100% of the time. If only humans could achieve such greatness.
For years now, referees in US sports have had the ability to review TV coverage of incidents and to take decisions based on what actually happened. Furthermore, an aggrieved team can protest a controversial decision and demand that it be reviewed.
In the world of rugby union, however, the use of modern technology is more restricted. Referees can ask the TMO – Television Match Official – to confirm that a try has been scored or to identify any reason why it should not be awarded. The TMO can also draw the referee’s attention to some foul play that was missed by the three on-pitch officials.
So far, so good, but the rules do not allow the TMO to be consulted on other aspects of play. That is why, in the case of the Scotland v Australia game, Mr Joubert did not consult the TMO. He was not allowed to do so. Nor was Scotland allowed to protest and demand that the decision be reviewed as that right does not exist in rugby.
Where does that leave us? Scotland out unjustly, Australia through unworthily and Craig Joubert being criticised unfairly.
Meanwhile the real culprits are escaping almost unnoticed. World Rugby has reviewed the same recordings that the TMO could have used to prevent this happening; World Rugby has said the referee was wrong but I believe he is not really to blame.
The responsibility for the fracas must rest solely with the sport’s governing body. It has the technology ; it has TMOs. Let referees use them to ensure this sort of mistake never happens again and also allow TMOs to take the initiative and insist on a review if a mistake is being made.
Furthermore, why not give teams a limited number of appeals during a match? Cricketers already have that, as well as baseball and American Football teams, so let rugby have that as well.
Sports administrators and rule-makers need to take action now. The technology is there, it is time to let it be used in all circumstances. It is, after all, the 21st century.