Two stories which I read in the newspaper this week caught my attention. The short-lived reign of Sam Allardyce as England football manager and the reasons for his downfall were well publicised and perhaps all too predictable. The second story which I read and which caused me to shake my head in disappointment was news of fighting between rival fans at the match between Gloucester and Bristol. Bristol has said that it will deal with the fans who instigated the altercations severely, but that, allied to allegations of biting, eye-gouging and the mass brawl between players and substitutes of two top French teams, suggests that the days are numbered for rugby being able to claim that it operates on a different moral compass from the majority of other sports.
Of course these are just headlines relating to the elite end of the sport, but we all know that what happens at the elite end today starts to permeate down to lower levels in the fullness of time. If this was to happen it would prove to be a real shame. We as match officials are able to help take steps to prevent this ongoing erosion of standards. The way we conduct ourselves - on and off the field - when we officiate and in other interactions with the clubs whom we serve must always be above reproach and designed to support the respect agenda. I would encourage you to discuss these incidents with the coaches and committee members you see after games on a Saturday, so that they become conscious of the incidents and have similar discussions with their club colleagues. Rugby as a sport cannot afford to lose those aspects which differentiate us form other sports, otherwise recruitment and retention of players, coaches, match officials and administrators will fall into terminal decline.