Why Publicly Criticizing Match Officials Must Stop – The Rassie Erasmus Lions Saga

Tuesday March 15th, 2022 By Kevin Carpenter

The showpiece match of the first round of the 2022 Six Nations Championship, Scotland v England, featured two of the match officials who officiated test matches during last summer’s three-match series between world champions Africa of the South (aka the Springboks) and the British and Irish Lions (B&I Lions/the Lions): Nic Berry of Australia who refereed the first test and Ben O’Keefe of New Zealand who whistled for the second test (each being the other’s assistant in every match). It was a series overshadowed by questions about officiating, in particular Mr Berry’s performance in the first Test, not because of his actual performance during the game but because of the public way in which he was dissected by South African Director of Rugby (and 2019 World Cup winning coach), Rassie Erasmus.

Three days after the first test, which South Africa lost, an hour-long video appeared on the online platform Vimeo (since deactivated – but available at the time of writing here). The video was posted by Mr. Erasmus, giving a wide-ranging critique of Mr. Berry’s performance and the decisions he said went against his team.1 Such a remarkable review has never been previously made public in the sport of rugby union. and there was considerable consternation from the world rugby community.2

This article summarizes the case and sets out the main legal issues arising from the decision of the World Rugby Judicial Committee.3. With particular emphasis on the growing tendency to criticize match officials in rugby union (and sport in general), given that the author is a trained and active referee, first in football (soccer) and then in rugby union for almost 15 years. Specifically, it offers:

  • Summary of the case and conclusions

  • Analysis of evidence

  • Notable legal issues; and

  • Impact and takeaways for rugby union and other sports.

The numbers in square brackets refer to the paragraph numbers of the decision. A timeline of key events can be found in the addendum.

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Hits 157 Posted in Sports | Dispute Resolution | items | Rugby

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Written by

Kevin Charpentier

Kevin Charpentier

Kevin is an advisor and member of the Editorial Board of LawInSport, having previously served as Editor-in-Chief. In his day-to-day work, he takes on two roles: as a director of his own consultancy firm Captivate Legal & Sports Solutions, and a special advisor for sports integrity at global sports data and technology company Genius Sports.

Charles P. Patton