With the Rugby World Cup underway, conversation about the differences between football and rugby seem to be more current than ever. And it's true, both for watching and playing in, football and rugby could not be further apart when it comes to certain key aspects of sport, such as rugby being more physical and tactical whereas football is more technical; when rugby players are actively looking for contact, footballers are doing everything to avoid it.
A key difference that's been discussed a lot over the last few weeks is the way rugby has embraced technology, and something football should follow by introducing technology more widely instead of just relying upon goal-line incidents. Why not simply re-play disputed incidents, then and there, to get an accurate picture of what actually happened? Not only would this disclose the truth, but it'd also be more effective than goal-line and less costly than other more complicated high-tech methods. The technology is there so why not use it? Businesses are constantly pushing the tech boundaries and there's no reason why football shouldn't be doing the same. The use of drones during both practice and games is also another method that could help improve the game as well as the quality and accuracy of it.
While it's important to strike a balance between making the right decision and respecting the flow of a match, nobody can argue that TMO hasn't provided clarity and developed rugby into a better, fairer sport. Whereas in football, fair play remains a fanciful concept, particularly when it comes to the behaviour of players at the highest level.
The ultimate and non-arguable respect for the referee in rugby is something which football could learn a lot from. In rugby, players have respectful, polite discussions with referees during which they never swear,always address the master of proceedings as 'Sir', and take a submissive tone.
All of this seems to have the effect of increasing the respect the players have for the man who is in charge of the game and results in there being much less necessity for harsh punishments and brutal suspensions.
The fact that TV viewers can hear the referee talking to his colleague as the TMO with rugby, which originally sounds as if it could seriously undermine the perception of the referee as an all-powerful, all-seeing eye by making him more real, actually has the very simple effect of making him appear human, trying to work out what the best decision is and what really happened, just like everyone else at the game.
It's often said footballers spend 90 minutes pretending to be injured while rugby players spend 80 minutes pretending they're not, and although some of this is down to the nature of the two different sports, football referees have an increasingly difficult task ensuring they're not tricked into making poor decisions by players becoming more adept at 'cheating'.
In a recent game between Arsenal and Chelsea, Mike Dean fell into this trap when he sent off Arsenal defender Gabriel, who was goaded into petulance by Chelsea's Diego Costa. In fact, it was Costa who deserved a red card and Dean's decision has since been reversed by the FA. Surely video technology would have cleared this up?
While football has now jumped on leaps and bounds with the introduction of goal-line technology, the next big step would be to introduce video footage in the form of replay features as well as giving the referee a voice, allowing viewers to listen in whilst key decisions are being made, such as the potential award of a red card, or discussing whether a penalty should be given.
This would achieve the same effect as it has in rugby, with the referee suddenly having a voice, and a way of speaking. By introducing greater technology to help football referees would also help to eliminate most cases of dissent, as there would be nothing to argue about.
The lack of respect shown by footballers towards match officials extends beyond simulation. They habitually surround the referee, forcing him to physically retreat. This kind of intimidation is simply not accepted in rugby.
More often than not, this means football headlines are made not by the sport itself but the circus surrounding it.
Take Japan's remarkable victory over South Africa for example, arguably the biggest shock and one of the greatest moments in the sport's history. Video technology ensured the result could not be disputed, South Africa's players accepted defeat graciously and Japan's heroes rightly took centre stage. One can wonder if the same would have happened should this have happened during the football World Cup?
While the introduction of technology would not solve all the issues of trust and respect, or the lack of it, that have built up over the years between the authorities, this would be a first step for the FA and the clubs to enable the people who feel most frustrated by certain decisions, the fans, to understand the processes and methods which the referees go through for each and every decision they take on the pitch.
By opening up the game and 'allowing' people into the world of a referee and the actual game, this could potentially result in referees, managers, players and fans finding a common ground.
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