The Rugby World Cup 2011 in New Zealand is getting close to its climax with the semi final matches being played this weekend.

I have been particularly interested in some aspects of the refereeing, especially regarding the appointments.

Only ten referees were selected by the International Rugby Board, all of them from what would be considered the top rank countries – two from Ireland, two from South Africa, two from England and one each from New Zealand, Wales, Australia and France.

Also, all are native English speakers, apart from Romaine Poite from France.

Imagine one semi final between England and Ireland and the other between South Africa and New Zealand.

According to FIFA procedures, only three referees could have been appointed to these matches which is not a satisfactory situation for any World Cup.

This is very restrictive and, I would argue, very unprofessional.

I have to say I totally agree with the basic principle of selecting only the best referees and also of selecting two or more from the same country if they are the best. However, there is also the suggestion that the creation of such a group in New Zealand from only seven countries is elitist and restrictive.

In FIFA competitions there is a built in requirement for all confederations to be represented and this affects the quality of the officials.

Going by the IRB policy the best 24 referees in the world would have been selected for South Africa 2010.

Perhaps this would have been made up of 2 from AFC, 2 from CONCACAF, 6 from CONMEBOL and 14 from UEFA. This would have meant no representatives from OFC or CAF which would have been politically unacceptable to FIFA and to these confederations.

What would also have been unacceptable for FIFA would have been for a referee from a country in the same qualification section to referee a match involving other teams in that section. This happened, for example, when Englishman Wayne Barnes refereed the crunch match between Argentina and Scotland with Scotland to face England in the next match.

Imagine a situation in a FIFA World Cup when Argentina played Scotland in the qualification rounds refereed by an Englishman and Scotland’s next match was against England. Two Scottish players are controversially sent off and miss a deciding match against England.

No way, but maybe that is one of the differences between football and rugby.

I would imagine the IRB would have preferred to have had a wider choice of top referees and would possibly have appointed a larger number. 16 would have given them more options and might also have opened up the almost exclusive English speaking club.

It does not say much for the development of world refereeing in rugby that only 10 are considered good enough to be appointed to the premier tournament in the sport.

Also the Rugby World Cup 2011 is not without refereeing controversy.

Just like criticism of referees in the FIFA World Cup, New Zealander Bryce Lawrence has become Public Enemy Number 1 in South Africa after he refereed the controversial quarter final match with Australia which South Africa lost.

Two codes of the game, some refereeing similarities, some differences but many of the same problems!

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