4 Suggestions from Rugby for Football

A week on after the 2015 Rugby (Union) World Cup ended with the All-Blacks making history by retaining their world title, here are four areas football’s sister sport can adapt to improve the beautiful game.

Broadcasting Referees’ Microphone

There has recent controversies surrounding the conversations referees have with players, with several accusations of racism by the former towards the latter during the match, most notably the row between Jon Obi Mikel and Mark Clattenburg. Football referees wear portable microphones which allow them to speak with their assistant referees, or linesmen, and the fourth official. It is hoped that this would add synergy between the officials and aid in crucial decision making.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by David Gibson/Fotosport/REX Shutterstock (5212640ce)  Nigel Owens - Referee (Wales).  Scotland v South Africa, Rugby World Cup, Pool B, St James' Park, Newcastle, England, Saturday 3 October 2015  ***PLEASE CREDIT: FOTOSPORT/DAVID GIBSON***  South Africa v Scotland, IRB Rugby World Cup Poolb, Rugby Union International, St James's Park, Newcastle, Britain - 03 Oct 2015

everything a referee says will be clear to all.

As seen in the 2015 Rugby World Cup, the conversations between the referee and the players can be heard pretty clearly on television broadcasts, giving a clear indication to fans what the referee is calling for and what the players are being penalised for. This helps remove a layer of doubt surrounding refereeing decisions.

If applied in football, there would be no way that any type of racist behaviour, whether from or to the referee, would not be picked up upon. This could reduce such non-sporting tendencies among officials and players. However, as the problem of rash and poor language of both players and officials is too ingrained in football culture, the implementing of this could lead to football broadcasts not fit for family viewing.

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no more accusations of racist remarks by referees.

Still, if the relevant authorities can work together to outlaw the use of poor language during matches, especially around officials, allowing the referee’s mic to be transmitted to TV broadcasts could help bring greater transparency to the game and its rules.

Only Captains Speaking To Referees

Continuing on the subject of referees, in rugby union, only captains are allowed to speak with the referee and dispute decisions – unlike in football, where players swarming the referees and baying for their oppositions to be carded has become a common sight. It is thoroughly unprofessional yet regularly features during high-profile, high-pressure games, like El Classico.

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more respect between referee and captains.

Though football referees do summon the captains of either or both teams when they feel the need to reprimand an individual or group’s unsporting behaviour, the fact remains that referees are constantly pressured, sometimes physically intimidated, into making match-defining decisions. Referees are only human. Though the Respect campaign has succeeded in emphasising the importance of referees and the need to abide by their decisions regardless, this constant harrying of officials only makes their jobs more difficult and can sometimes result in emotional rather than rational decisions.

Chelsea players crowd referee v PSG

unlike this, where players gang up to force the referee’s hand.

That is why FIFA needs to implement a captain-only speaking policy in football, which would provide the referee with the sufficient space and time to make the right decisions. This would also mean that team captains have the added responsibility of helping the referee in facilitating the flow of the game.

Timekeeping & Stoppages

Moving slightly away from referees towards timekeeping, it was interesting that in rugby union, game time stops whenever the referee needs to view a video replay, or for stoppages like line-outs and injury assessments of players by medical staff. This way, there is no such thing as added time like in football, instead once the clock strikes 80 minutes (the length of a rugby game), the game ends at the first instance where the ball goes out of play. This usually occurs when either side kicks the ball into touch. There is then no dispute over the length of injury time added at the end of each half.

In football, there is much controversy over goals scored after the minimum amount of time added on to the end of either half. Though the amount of injury time is announced as ‘a minimum of’, giving referees leeway to add additional time should there be any stoppages during injury time, the referee’s decision to add more time is still based on his opinion of what constitutes a stoppage.

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stopping the clock during stoppages would mean no more controversy over time added on.

If the rugby union’s way of timekeeping is implemented in football, there would be little squabbling over injury time goals. There would also be less time wasting by the opposition, for example by lying on the floor ‘injured’ and requesting medical attention. After the clock strikes 90 minutes, the game would end once the ball goes out of play, still allowing for a goal to be scored should it cross either side’s goal line. How would there be any chance for dispute over the timing of late goals scored now?

Head Injury Assessment

Lastly, and more vitally, is the need to highlight rugby union’s focus on alleviating the risk of head injuries for players. Players diagnosed with concussion of sorts during the game are required to be taken off and temporary substituted. Once the player is deemed fit enough to rejoin the game, he will then replace his temporary replacement.

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rugby medics have sufficient time and no pressure when assessing player injuries.

This way, teams and managers are under less pressure to keep all their players on the pitch so as to avoid suffering a temporary numerical disadvantage. Implementing temporary substitution for head injuries in football would see players replaced for the time being, allowing the team doctors to evaluate their health or state of mind. Players would not feel forced to play on even if all signs show they cannot, and could help prevent unfortunate incidents on the pitch, from players fainting to even losing their life during matches.

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in football, even medical professionals are drawn into controversy.

Such temporary replacements for injury assessments could also be extended to when players require lengthy treatment of, say, five minutes or more – for example stitching or stapling of head wounds.


Seeing the success of these ideas implemented in rugby union, without disrupting play and the flow of the game, means they should and can be implemented in football as well. These suggestions not only help improve the welfare of players and officials, but also indirectly helps improve the quality of the overall game.

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