‘Our referees are young and professional’ | Sunday Observer

‘Our referees are young and professional’

Nizam Jamaldeen
Nizam Jamaldeen

Referees do make mistakes because to err is human but the present generation of young rugby officials are “fitter and faster” than even players as they are professional in their commitment to the task of blowing the whistle, says Nizam Jamaldeen, president of the Sri Lanka Rugby Football Referees Society (SLRFRS).

“I started refereeing when I was 28 because those days you take up refereeing only after you retire from playing. Now it’s more professional. The doors are open. Young guys know they have some future being a referee. They make lot of sacrifices just like players to keep fit,” said Jamaldeen whose policy of recruiting youngsters has paid dividends.

“We have introduced young guys because our most senior referees are at the end of their career. We have around 25 referees who are under 25 years now,” said Jamaldeen whose son Aaqil, 24, created history becoming the youngest to officiate in a Bradby last week.

“There are some more referees who are as good as him (Aaqil) also. Aaqil and Praneeth Weeranga are in the Asian panel for the past two years. There are others who are knocking on the doors. This I think is a positive move. They are also lucky to have veteran World Rugby educators like Vimal Perera, Anil Jayasinghe and Dilroy Fernando,” said the former Sri Lanka fly half who feels they have to keep pace with the times.

“Their training is handled by World Rugby qualified referee coaches like myself, Tony Amith, Mahinda Jayawardena,Rankothge and Shamrath Fernando.

They are the ones who push for more young guys because at the moment the game is so fast, especially school games. If you are not fit you are out,” declared Jamaldeen, who along with Dilroy Fernando officiated at the inaugural World Cup Rugby Sevens in Dubai in 2009.

“Fitness is a major issue. There is the Yoyo test where you have to get 18 points to pass it. Our guys are doing more than that. Our referees are fitter and faster.

They make sacrifices to train after work. Even the world body encourages young guys to referee,” said Jamaldeen who has been SLRFRS president for the past six years.

“It (fitness test) is conducted before the start of every tournament at least four times in a year. There are fitness sessions also.

Even last week we hired some people as trainers. So we are doing lot of things to ensure referees do well on the field,” said Jamaldeen who reiterated there was no need to bring down foreign referees. “We need the support and encouragement of Sri Lanka Rugby.”

Deflecting criticism of referees, he said: “Every losing side has an issue. Most people involved in rugby at the moment are not familiar with the laws. There are some decisions called ‘Practical or Not, Material or Immaterial, Positive or Negative’, which people don’t know. I think lack of knowledge is a problem.”

Asked how they tackle abuse of referees by officials from the bench, he explained: “There is no law to hand Red or Yellow cards to errant officials but they can be removed from the bench. We have to go through the captain by issuing a caution first. We don’t directly go to the official. That is the protocol we follow.”

He lamented the win-at-any-cost mentality and ignorance of the laws while blaming coaches teaching their charges to circumvent the rules to the point of winning by cheating.

“In our days we enjoyed rugby. However much we played hard and knocked each other on the field, we make friends thereafter. That’s why most former rugby players are doing well in life.

Now with money coming in, most want to win at any cost. This is a bad sign,” said Jamaldeen, 54, a Superintendent of Police, who had a distinguished rugby career representing Sri Lanka in five Asiads since his debut in 1986.

Asked what qualities make a good referee, he said: “They should be willing to learn, be matured, willing to take responsibility and do their training daily.”

His message to spectators: “Come and enjoy game. Not be violent, just enjoy. There are 30 players and one referee in the middle. So respect their decisions. Don’t be emotional. Win or lose, enjoy supporting your team and make friends. Just love the game. If not rugby will die.”