Australian Rugby today announced it will increase the number of match officials nationally by 20% over the next five years, with a particular focus on recruiting women and increasing the number of referees aged between 25 and 35, as part of its first ever Match Official Strategic Plan.
The number of match officials across Australia has increased steadily since 2008, but Australian representation internationally has decreased from five referees at the 1999 Rugby World Cup to just one at present – an all-time low.
The announcement coincides with the news that global logistics giant TNT Express has extended its decade-long partnership with Australian Rugby Union for another three years until the end of 2016.
TNT Express’ managing director – Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands, Bob Black, said: “We’re excited to continue our longstanding partnership with the Australian Rugby Union as they up the ante on recruitment and retention. As a global business we know the importance of having the best players in a team for success and we’re looking forward to the implementation of the new plan.
“One of our core qualities is to build local and global partnerships while delivering the orange customer experience, and this season the referees will be as prominent as ever in their bright orange jerseys.
“It goes without saying that referees play an integral role in a game of rugby, and without them there is no game. Our ‘Sure we can’ philosophy to support referees is our contribution to the game.”
TNT Express’ support of match officials includes sponsoring Super Rugby referees in Australia and working with the Australian Rugby Union to develop a Referee Mentoring Program and a Referee Recognition Program.
“TNT Express is very proud of its continued support of the Australian Rugby Union through its sponsorship of the Super Rugby Referees,” Mr Black said.
“TNT Express shares the same priority with the Australian Rugby Union for its focus on recruiting women into a predominantly male industry. Our Women in Transport campaign targets women into the non-stereotypical roles of drivers and dockhands - and it’s a campaign that we’re passionate about and will continue to drive into the future.
“There are a lot of parallels between what we do as a business and the discipline, professionalism and drive for continual improvement shown by Super Rugby referees.
“Rugby referees need to adapt quickly and manage the flow of the game under pressure, not unlike the ever-changing environment transport and logistics companies like TNT Express find themselves in.”
Australian Rugby Union CEO Bill Pulver said increasing the number of match officials – or referees – at all levels of the game will help expand general participation, because without referees, games can’t happen.
“Referees provide a service to facilitate games and we acknowledge that we need to do more to improve our focus on the recruitment and development of match officials from the grass roots level right through to elite referees,” Mr Pulver said.
“This draft plan is part of that, in addition to the recent appointment of former international referee Scott Young to the position of Pathway Services Manager – Officiating, who will oversee the plan’s implementation.
There are currently 2,723 registered match officials in Australia and only 37 of those are girls or women.
“We have a small but very high-performing group of women who are match officials in Australia, including Sarah Corrigan who refereed the final of the Women’s Rugby World Cup in 2010 and Amy Perrett who was recently appointed as a member of the IRB’s Women’s Sevens match official panel,” Mr Young said.
“We know we have a lot more work to do, particularly as we head towards the 2016 Olympic Games where all women’s matches for Rugby Sevens will be refereed by women.”
Targeting age groups that are under-represented will also be a focus.
Mr Young said that he will be aiming to reverse a worrying trend that sees 27% of referees aged between 15 and 25 drop significantly to 8% between the ages of 25 and 35.
“We want to do more to recruit and retain match officials into the 25 to 35 year age group, by targeting former players, making the most of new competitions such as the National Rugby Championship as important development pathways, and by taking a national approach to improve coaching quality and coaching nationally,” Mr Young said.
Australian Rugby Union CEO Bill Pulver thanked TNT Express for its ongoing support of Australian Rugby.
“I am delighted that TNT Express is continuing its support of referees at Australian Super Rugby matches and I am excited by their commitment to create a number of unique programs for our match officials.
“Match officials are essential to our game and ensure it is played according to our values, particularly respect. We appreciate having a partner like TNT Express that supports and invests in referees from the grassroots through to the elite level.”
The sponsorship announcement was made at the ARU’s National Match Official’s Panel Seminar, where 28 of the nation’s top referees and match official coaches from across the country met to discuss law interpretations, undergo fitness testing, learn about recent game trends and overview game management protocols from the recent SANZAR and IRB Referees conferences.
Other initiatives included in Australian Rugby’s Match Official Strategic Plan include establishing an online education resource for all match officials and taking a national approach to identify talent, selection and coaching for match officials.