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Wednesday 1 February 2023 Dublin: 8°C
David Davies Nigel Owens is set to officiate at the upcoming Rugby World Cup.
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Why comparing soccer to other sports is pointless
Nigel Owens made some controversial remarks about football during the week.

Updated at 14.04

“WE CAN’T ACCEPT the video unless it’s broadcast quality.”

It wasn’t RTÉ that was knocking the quality of my footage, but the FAI Disciplinary committee. A Cork City player had been red-carded for ‘foul and abusive language directed towards the referee’.

We thought our appeal was rock-solid; the player in question had been facing our match analysis camera when talking to the referee and it was clear on the footage that, while annoyed with the referee, he hadn’t used any foul or abusive language. The footage wasn’t accepted and the player was banned.

Getting a decision overturned by the FAI disciplinary Committee is difficult, though I can live with that. Usually bans are deserved, I can count on one hand the number of times I felt a red card ban was unfair. One such time was in Thomond Park when a member of our coaching staff at Limerick FC was sent to the stands when someone else swore at the ref. The fourth official seemed to just randomly pick someone from the bench. We appealed and lost.

It’s expected that the disciplinary committee back the position of referees where there’s interpretation or differing accounts of an incident. It elevates the referee’s authority. GAA referee decisions appear too open to loophole-finding administrators who know the rulebook better than the game. We saw it with the Connolly sending off in the All-Ireland Gaelic Football semi-final against Mayo.

When you see decisions like this overturned, you question why people want to be referees at all. Why would you put yourself in a position where you are often verbally abused?

Having to consider whether or not your association will back you on appeals and in disciplinary committees doesn’t help. This is particularly relevant in sports where multiple camera angles and pundit-driven shows give analysts and the viewing public opportunities and time to consider decisions made in seconds on the pitch. It’s not just the decision itself that’s analysed, but the impact and fall-out even down to the financial cost to club as a result of a mistake.

Public and pundit opinions are one thing, but it must be infuriating when you have referees from other codes mounting high horses.

I know the Rugby World Cup is about to start but I know little about it and I wouldn’t pick many of the Irish International players out of a line-up. Despite my lack of rugby knowledge, I somehow know who Nigel Owens is. This week, he spouted some nonsense about how he’d sort out football managers — like Jose Mourinho — and players if he was in charge of a football game. It’s a different game and a different level of scrutiny — I’m not sure rugby would give him any preparation for an English Premier League game.

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In Owens’ case, he has a video referee supporting him to avail of slo-mo replays from multiple angles for contentious decisions. The managers he would ‘deal with’ typically sit in the stands among a bank of video screens, far from the action. It’s a different world and not just because of cultural differences between rugby and football that many supporting Owens’ claim would point to.

Owens assumes that he would not be, nor would he allow others to be, influenced by the microscopic and negative investigation into every action by players, managers and referees in high-level football. There isn’t a fraction of that level of interest in the decisions made by a rugby referee.

The fact that Owens is so highly regarded and one of his sport’s top referees isn’t an accident, but an ability to referee one sport isn’t necessarily a transferrable skill, not for players, managers or referees. Our constant need for comparison of sports and sports stars is tiresome.

We live in a time when we define ourselves not only by the sport we love, but by the fervour with which we negatively compare other codes to that sport. An image of a hurler bleeding from the head will be juxtaposed with an image of Cristiano Ronaldo dripping hair gel rather than blood, but not before we’re reminded which one is the amateur. I’ve done it myself many times and I’ve allowed myself to get wound up by it too often.

It’s actually been my eight-year-old son who’s taught me that I can enjoy a game or a sport on its own merits without the comparisons.

I’ll be glued to Dundalk v Drogheda United on TV tonight and to the EA Sports Cup final in Galway tomorrow. In between, I’ll watch Ireland in the Rugby World Cup and cheer them, admittedly without an understanding of the rules. Then I’ll round off my weekend at Croke Park for the All-Ireland final, which I was lucky enough to get tickets to.

I plan on enjoying every minute without caring whether Messi would make a decent corner-back or scrum half.

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