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Why Blaming the Ref is Not Welfarism

October 9th, 2007 by Matt

I am not a sports commentator, and would not consider myself any expert on the question. Like many New Zealanders I love rugby, I played it as a child and at high school. Recently I played a game at the College I teach at and remember the thrill of breaking three tackles and later scoring a try in the annual married versus singles match.

My father played for Waikato and played in an upset match took the Ranfurly Shield off Auckland. My grandfather was Chairman of the Waikato Rugby Union. He was a wise and insightful person and I remember the shock I experienced, as a young Waikato undergrad, when he informed me that he despised Waikato University. He remembered the activists tearing down rugby park fence, initiating violence and threats to his friends and colleagues when Hamilton hosted that infamous game with South Africa. My Grandfather was shocked that academics, people who ostensibly were committed to reason and persuasion would attempt to use force, threats to prevent him and others from watching a game. He was not a racist or a supporter of apartheid and watching a game between Waikato and South Africa no more made him one than watching a game with China makes one a communist or watching a game with Fiji makes one a supporter of military coups. He simply wanted to watch a game and was subjected to threats, force and abuse for doing so and he never forgave Waikato University for this.

In hindsight I should have heeded my grandfather’s warnings. I learnt the hard way that my grandfather’s assessment of Waikato University student activism was correct. Having been subjected to threats of violence, minor assaults, vicious personal abuse and repeated slanderous character assassination for arguing vigorously for more conservative viewpoints I now sympathise with my grandfather considerably.

So rugby is to some extent in my blood, and with this pedigree what I say may make me sound like just another ignorant red neck. But I think the referee is responsible for the All Blacks defeat by France on Sunday. I don’t condone the anger and nastiness that has been thrown at the ref by some. But I also dislike the facile analysis dominating talk back radio today. I hear that we lost have a “blame the authority” mentality fostered by welfare. Its all socialisms fault and blaming the ref is symptomatic of this. Apparently, we need to be less socialistic in our thinking, like the French apparently are.

The issue for me is this: the score was 20- 18. At least two French tries came about as a result of bad refereeing decisions. The first was the sin binning of Luke McAlister the second an obvious forward pass which should have been picked up and wasn’t. The Dominion post this morning notes a third, when the All Blacks had possession towards the end and were attempting a counter strike, the referee signaled advantage and then when the AB’s acted on this signal he disallowed advantage giving the French possession at a crucial time.

I am also sick of hearing people minimise these facts. We have been told that bad ref calls happen and the all blacks should have been able to win despite this. I disagree, its perfectly reasonable in international rugby for the players to expect competent refereeing. And while the odd bad call is to be expected, the consistent bizarre incompetence displayed on Sunday is not acceptable in an international match. People should not have to win despite incompetent referees. Those refs should not be there. It’s not the players job to make up for referee incompetence, the organizers have a duty to ensure competent officials are in charge of matches.
This is not welfarism: True one problem with some welfare policy is that people make the government (and hence the taxpayer) responsible for problems which they are not responsible. To take an example, the DPB makes the government responsible for meeting the costs of rearing children, when the person responsible for this the defaulting parent is not made responsible. If you doubt this try the following experiment (a) Tell the IRD that you will not pay taxes and see what happens. Then (b) get an non custodial parent to tell IRD they will no longer pay the child support payments which the IRD are required to collect and hand over to the custodial parent. Use the same excuse in both situations (such as I can’t afford it, I am a student etc) see what happens. Compare the results of (a) and (b).

I know first hand of a man who owes the IRD several thousand dollars as a result of a student loan. His wife is also owed several thousand dollars in child support payments and has been owed this for years. They have not seen this money, and for sometime the IRD informed them that they could not collect the money because at the time much of this debt was built up the person who owed it was a student.

But while this is one feature of welfarism it is not corrected by “an official is always right, we are always to blame” attitude. In fact one feature of welfarism is a misguided trust in authorities and officials. A belief that somehow that private individuals or corporations cannot be relied on to do certain things while governments can. According to this mind set the profit motive corrupts but power does not.

Sure the AB’s made some mistakes, and they could have played better, that’s all true. But the point is they shouldn’t have needed to, to beat the French they simply needed one thing a competent referee. And it is reasonable to expect them to have been given one. If you can reasonably demand something, aren’t given it, and as a result fail when you would not have, then you can be justifiably upset.

The fact that its predictable that officials will act incompetently and arbitrarily does not mean we should condone them does so. Nor does it mean we should require people to flourishing in spite of it and then blame them when they do not. It means we should try and reform authorities to minimize this, so that people do not need to bend over backwards to flourish. Even on a bad day the AB’s still should have won, because they had the talent to do so, arbitrary incompetence by officials prevented this. This is wrong and should not have happened. Of course it needs to be put in perspective, far worse injustices occurred in the last few days. But it was still wrong and telling people that thinking this is welfarism is absurd.

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1 response so far ↓

  • Yes you’re right but the ABs still had 70% possession and made 40 tackles to the French 170.
    Even with a poor ref those figures show that France hardly touched the ball. Even with a penalty bias awarding them the ball the French only had it 30% of the time. They should have been dead on their feet from tackling. What were we doing??

    Oh well, France to win tonight and hopefully Argentina but I don’t mind if SA win either.