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RFU statement: Referees complain over physical appearance feedback

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Ten referees in England have raised concerns in an external RFU investigation about potential barriers to progression and feedback provided to them based on body size, weight or shape. The review was sparked following an initial complaint from ex-referee George Richardson and the RFU have now acknowledged that such feedback was unacceptable and has stated its commitment to ensure physical appearance will not form part of selection criteria in future.

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A statement read: “The RFU is reviewing its assessment and selection criteria for referees following a complaint regarding potential barriers to progression and feedback provided to match officials based on body size, weight or shape. This led the RFU to commission an external investigation.

“The initial complaint was raised by the former referee, George Richardson, and through the course of the investigation, nine other referees were interviewed and raised similar concerns. The investigation found while there is no formal policy regarding referees’ weight, size or shape it has nonetheless been part of the criteria for assessment, regardless of whether fitness (bronco) assessments were passed.

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“The report also identified these criteria as being recognised at the highest levels of officiating and that this appears to have had a trickle-down effect. The RFU acknowledges this is unacceptable and is committed to addressing these practices to ensure physical appearance will not form part of selection criteria in future and apologises for the negative impact this has had on the referees concerned.

“Central to the RFU’s inclusion and diversity plan is the aim to create an inclusive environment that encourages people from all backgrounds to take up officiating at every level. The independent report recommended that the RFU:

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  • Assesses its written guidelines to ensure they provide clarity as to the criteria being assessed;
    Issues a code of conduct document to clarify to match official developers the expected practices concerning body weight, size and shape;
  • Ensures its practices and policies for match officials’ promotion and development are sufficiently clear and transparent;
  • Communicates the reporting mechanisms for anyone who wishes to raise concerns about feedback around body weight, size or shape.

“The RFU is committed to actioning the recommendations and it will implement new codes of conduct and training for all match official selectors and developers. This work has already started and will be concluded before the end of the year to then be reviewed on an annual basis.”

Ex-referee Richardson said: “My primary motivation for raising the complaint was to ensure there is cultural change around this issue and to ensure that in the future assessments are based on ability to do the job, not physical attributes.

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“I wanted to make sure that learning has taken place across the RFU refereeing pathway so that the best referees within the country can get to the top and rugby really can be ‘the all-inclusive game. I’m pleased the RFU has taken this matter seriously and look forward to seeing the recommendations implemented for the next generation of referees to benefit and progress.”

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