“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”
This famous line from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” still comes to mind, especially when an unseemly quarrel takes a nasty turn.
The clash between the Munster branch of the IRFU and a group of members of the Munster Referees Association (MAR) based in the Cork region shows no signs of abating. Where this came from was the decision to move to best practice governance and in doing so the curious long-term arrangement of having two constituent parts, ‘south’, Cork region and beyond, and ‘north’, the Limerick area, ended and a single entity emerged. Sensitive.
It went like a lead balloon with some MAR members in the old ‘south’, while those in the ‘north’ seem unconcerned and whistle as usual.
As the new system was put in place, interviews were held, the various honorary officer roles being filled in this way, and another, much heavier, lead balloon came crashing down on Earth. These officers are not recognized by the disgruntled group, and are “told” to resign. Apparent signs of tail trying to wag the dog here, but very uncomfortable for those receiving.
Whatever mistakes the branch may have made along the way, there are normal channels readily available to voice those concerns. However, there is no excuse for shamelessly holding the game to ransom. Those involved might well wonder if this is how they really want to be remembered.
It may be necessary to seek solutions of a disciplinary nature, however difficult and unpleasant they may be.
These dissidents actively boycott games and encourage others to do the same. The net result of their action was that some home games were not played, and other All-Ireland League fixtures could only go ahead with clubs providing their own linesmen.
Without calling into question for a single moment the integrity of the people who were kind enough to mobilize so that the matches could take place, this can only have a very negative effect on the refereeing, on the accuracy of the decisions. And, of course, there is no “flag” for foul play; their function is solely to referee throw-ins and kicks at goal, no other advice may be given or requested by the referee. This is troubling in the context of fairness in an all-Irish competition where every match should have the full complement of officials.
The MAR is a sub-committee of the Branch, it is not an independent club, and everyone should be aware of this position and accept the rules of governance. In fact, valid membership surely implies such acceptance; what is effectively a partial “strike” is causing very real damage to the association. Recruiting is the life blood of not just officiating but the game itself, and it has been on its knees for far too long; New efforts and initiatives in the works should no doubt help, but this is anything but a quick fix to the numbers.
There are several solutions to this total mess, and the ambition, on both sides, must be that this is the one where the good will is restored, and that all the active arbitrators accept all their nominations, in other words stick to why they became referees in the first place. Men and women pick up the whistle for a variety of reasons, top of the list – believe it or not – is “fun” and also participation in the game on the court. Others do it to “give something back to the game”.
These noble causes are forgotten as the conflicts are prolonged rather than diminished, and solutions of a disciplinary nature may well have to be sought, however difficult and unpleasant they may be. But things have already escalated – at least one anonymous letter has been sent to a member of MAR’s executive committee, who is doing his best to keep the show on the road. Although I haven’t been in contact with the recipient, it’s not exactly a state secret that the wording qualifies as “disturbing.”
An unsigned letter, by its nature, is cowardly in the extreme, but is also meant to intimidate, to frighten. Any such correspondence, now or in the future, should be thoroughly investigated, and not just by the Branch or IRFU, every effort should be made to locate the source. .
The referees contribute enormously, without them the sport could not exist. Of course, they don’t always get the appreciation they deserve.
Any referee in the dispute who occupies a valuable place on the IRFU panels, which cover all AIL matches and other centrally appointed matches, must surely face appropriate action from headquarters. social which can only be clearly indifferent to this position of confrontation; the idea of match fees being remitted would be absurd. IRFU is full of arbitration, legal and HR departments, which, presumably, are hard at work behind the scenes. This issue also has implications for the governing body.
Even now there must remain a glimmer of hope that people will see the common sense, realize things have gone far enough, show some goodwill and sign up again, we sincerely hope that it doesn’t. is not too late.
History has shown that sports conflicts of this nature destroy lifelong friendships and destroy trust, two elements that are the very fabric of amateur organizations. When people put down roots like this, they risk losing sight of the long-term harm they are causing, and that – even if fixed tomorrow – will require repairs, rebuilding is probably a better word.
The referees contribute enormously, without them the sport could not exist. Sure, they don’t always get the appreciation they deserve, but that always goes with the territory. The MAR needs the branch, and, of course, vice versa; but the former, as a sub-committee, reports to the latter, and no one has ever beaten the town hall, though a crowd of extremists from across the pond have come close enough recently. Surely there are enough wise men on all sides of the equation who know this is the situation and who will bring this unwelcome, unseemly and damaging saga to a speedy and democratic conclusion.
Where there is a will, there is a way, but the converse of this maxim is also true.