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Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Anthony Watson reprimanded for Twitter rant at referee during match he did not play in

The 27-year-old accepted the charge and expressed remorse before an independent disciplinary panel, consisting of Gareth Graham (chair) with Dr Julian Morris and Rob Vickerman, that took place last week. Watson did, however, provide context to his actions after he suffered a serious knee injury on October 17 against Saracens that ruled him out of England’s squad for the autumn internationals. 

“A week prior to this game I suffered a potentially season-ending knee injury, which alone is not the easiest thing to deal with,” Watson wrote in his submission. “However, when coupled with the fact that a mere two years ago I spent 13 months on the side-line watching my team and rehabilitating a double-ruptured Achilles – can explain some level of the frustration I am feeling. I am unable to contribute to my team in the most constructive manner I know how. 

“This is further exacerbated when you analyse the poor start to the season my club has had, and the personal desperation for my club to win games and succeed. Whilst again I will emphasise that none of this goes a way to explain my actions, I would like the context of my personal situation to be understood. Once again, I am deeply sorry for my actions, it is not something that will happen again.”

Watson also plans to apologise directly to Ian Tempest since the disciplinary process has concluded.

Watson’s post might be the thin end of the wedge, but abuse of referees is accelerating alarmingly within rugby

When you consider the calculated character assassination committed by Rassie Erasmus on Nic Berry then Anthony Watson’s social-media post falls at the thinnest end of the wedge constituting abuse against officials.

Indeed many would argue that his spelling of “obsurd” is the greatest crime in Watson’s tweet. However, the RFU have taken action because the wedge is growing. Referees are harangued from all angles – supporters, especially on social media; players, whose complaints are growing increasingly loud on the field; and us, too, in the media. The drip-drip criticism has an effect, especially when it is a torrent. While Berry’s example was extreme, it made plain the “significant amount of distress” he suffered as a result of Erasmus’ underhand actions.

Watson’s punishment – a week ban suspended until the end of the season – is a slap on the wrist but a necessary one. Referees are not above criticism but they should not be fair game for pile-ons, especially from seasoned internationals. To his credit, Watson has expressed regret for his tweet and explaining the extreme frustration he was feeling at the time as a result of his serious knee injury is useful context.

Perhaps the most illuminating passage of the judgement which was published on the RFU’s website comes from Mike Priestley, chair of the Rugby Football Referees’ Union, in which he outlined the worrying shortage of officials in the grass-roots game. 

“It is no secret that the number of referees taking up the whistle again after such a prolonged layoff is causing concern,” Priestley said. “A situation exacerbated by many of our members leaving the game having become disillusioned with, among other things, persistent challenging of their decisions and, unfortunately, some serious incidences of match-official abuse. Worse still, enticing new referees, especially young match officials, into the game becomes that more challenging.

“The refereeing community is a relatively tight-knit one and incidents of abuse and disrespect for the role soon permeate amongst officials, undermining their confidence and commitment. Furthermore, we cannot stress the impact that poor behaviour towards match officials, be it challenging decisions, appealing, disrespect or abuse, within the professional end of our game has on the wider game.”

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