Leading rugby union referee Nigel Owens feels a shift in attitude is required in football to ensure greater respect is shown to officials.
Owens – widely regarded as rugby’s premier law-enforcer – is involved in Tissot’s #RespectTheRef campaign, intended to highlight the importance of mutual courtesy being shown on the field.
The Welshman insists rugby “cannot take the moral high ground” over football, but highlighted the touchline conduct of Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp during his side’s 1-1 draw with Chelsea at Anfield on January 31, and the reaction it provoked, as a point of concern.
After goalkeeper Simon Mignolet had saved a penalty from Diego Costa, Klopp shouted in the face of fourth official Neil Swarbrick – an incident for which he subsequently apologised.
Owens told Omnisport: “What hope have you got of telling the kids in school or telling the kids through the [Football Association’s] Respect campaign to respect people, when they’re looking at a manager ranting at the fourth official?
“I think commentators can take responsibility as well. I was watching Match of the Day and it was the Liverpool-Chelsea game where Klopp was shouting at the fourth official, right in his face after the penalty.
“The camera panned in on him really shouting into the fourth official’s face, totally unacceptable behaviour, and then the commentator said: ‘Tensions are high, that’s understandable’.
“And I thought, well, it’s not understandable. What the commentator should have said is: ‘Tensions may be high, but that behaviour is something we don’t condone and that’s unacceptable – there should be a sign of respect’.
“That, to me, sums it all up. If they want to change attitudes [in football] then that’s where it needs to start, at the top end of the game.”
Owens continued: “There are a lot of things that rugby can learn from football and there are a lot of things that rugby can do better and needs to do better. There’s much more thuggery in rugby than there is in football. Thankfully, those incidents are now few and far between, but this type of behaviour does happen in rugby still and that’s why I say rugby can’t take the moral high ground.
“But I think even the most ardent football supporter would agree that one thing rugby does lead the way on is its inclusiveness to all in the sport and its respect.
“The FA is doing a lot of good work in schools, with the Respect campaign and things like this, but unless they start it right at the top, so the young people looking up to their heroes see that they behave in a respectful way on the field, then it’s not going to have the effect it would otherwise.
“Football has more influence on people in everyday life than any other sport in the world and with that comes a responsibility for everybody involved in the sport at the top end of the game. If they really want to make a mark on respect, they’ve got to start at the top of the game and with a zero-tolerance approach.”
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