If you have been reading the news lately, you will have seen that leading NRL referee Matt Cecchin is stepping aside at season’s end.
Now, I’m not usually one to say a whole lot about referees but the recent constant negative press coupled with Cecchin’s decision has prompted me to say something.
Referees, no matter the sport they officiate in, have one of the hardest jobs imaginable in sport.
Each decision they make, good or bad, has to be made in basically a split second.
They have to recall, assess, analyse and then make their decision in an instant; very few of us ever have to face that sort of pressure.
With that pressure, comes scrutiny, much of which is tame and normal but there is a much darker side to all of this.
A side whereby referees are openly criticised by those who wield notoriety, to the point where their name and their profession becomes publicly ridiculed.
Matt Cecchin is a leading NRL referee, a fan of the game and a lovely man and person in general.
He is also an openly gay man and that should never be held against him when he steps out onto an NRL field.
He refereed his 300th game this past week and that is a tremendous achievement. One that Cecchin should really be reveling in.
Unfortunately, he cannot. That milestone has been overshadowed by the fact he has opted to retire and by the media’s treatment of referees.
His retirement has come on the back of several hundred death threats following the Rugby League World Cup.
Cecchin was threatened, family members were attacked and he had to be escorted by Federal police back to his home, such were the disturbing nature of the threats.
There is no harsher critic of a referee than the men themselves who are refereeing games every week at the highest level.
Just last year, Cecchin spoke to the Sydney Morning Herald in a candid interview about his mental illness battles and his anxiety.
“I feel bad when I f..k up,” Cecchin said in that interview.
“I take it to heart if I don’t referee well.”
On top of that, it all become so bad and so much for Cecchin, he is talking to his sports therapist twice a day.
But this isn’t just about Cecchin or that he’s forced to retire because he feels unsafe. This goes much, much deeper than just the NRL.
Any referee, no matter the sport or the level they referee at, are human just like every single one of us.
And yet they receive constant damnation and scorn, incessant insults and vitriol by fans who go too far.
Yet, it even goes beyond that. When some media types openly criticise referees and seek to individually highlight every error they make.
Again, referees are human. They make mistakes as we all do. Yet our mistakes are not published on a national scale like the referees ones are.
What does this sort of public embarrassment tell the next generation of referees?
How does that inspire them to keep going, knowing that certain media types will only belittle you and your refereeing ability?
How does that instill confidence into them, a trait that is so important in the constant pressure environments NRL refereeing brings about?
Referees will never feel safe in their jobs nor will they ever be free to just referee until the scorn and vitriol from fans ceases.
And until the media stop with their tiresome campaign of publicly highlighting error upon error, referees will never feel safe.
If the game itself does not do more to help and protect the referees, then Cecchin will not be the last to walk away from the game.
More importantly, if the referees of our game are not respected by fans for the work they do, then why should they have to turn up to referee at all?