Former Super League referee comments on the number of officials leaving the sport

Rugby league is nothing without its referees. Love them or hate them, they play an essential role in the game and today James Child announced he was set to step down as a referee.

The 39-year-old has called it a day but not before he became one of a select group to have officiated at four Rugby League World Cups with his involvement in this autumn’s competition.

His list of major match appearances as a referee also includes the 2017 Betfred Super League Grand Final at Old Trafford, and the 2022 Betfred Challenge Cup Final at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

It’s been noted by some on social media and in the rugby league sphere that Child is the latest in a string of referees to hang up the whistle lately and former Super League referee Ian Smith has commented on the situation.

Smith worked as a Super League official from 1999 to 2010 becoming a mainstay in the middle of the park for over a decade.

As a result of his work in the Championship, where he was awarded referee of the year in 1999 and 2000, he saw the permanent move to Super League where he ruled over some iconic moments and was also a coach for other referees.

A tweet from The Tryline UK noted that a number referees are walking away from officiating and stated that only in the past six years that figure tops 10, which can obviously create a problem if no one is available to officiate top flight games.

Smith replied to a tweet that listed some of these names to add clarification, but it still didn’t paint a pretty picture.

“Not fully accurate but close except for backroom staff, that figure is more like 15 who have left in last six years,” Smith tweeted in response to a list containing names such as Phil Bentham, Richard Silverwood and Childs having hung up the whistle in the period whilst Steve Ganson has been Head of Match Officials.

What followed was a spate of fans asking Smith what would be considered a normal age to retire from refereeing considering Child is only 39.

Smith responded: “I was 46 when I retired but I could have carried on but chose to finish too early. It’s all about fitness and desire I suppose.

“It’s not an easy transition from player to ref as people think. It’s a totally different mindset … going from a professional player to getting aggro reffing an U14s game on a local park can be tough as it does take time to progress to the top.”

Smith highlighted financial issues as a potential block for new recruitment of referees and combined with the aforementioned comment on ‘tough progress to the top’ there could be a case where referees become a scarcity in rugby league.

“Yeah a lack of monetary investment into the department definitely doesn’t help with recruitment and retention,” Smith responded to another fan.

Smith also took time to respond to Serious About Rugby League’s tweet sharing the news that Child was to step down citing it as “a huge loss to the department.”

At the recent World Cup the RFL had 15 match officials involved whilst the NRL sent over 10, NZRL sent two and the French Federation a further two.

The RFL did therefore outnumber the other three organisations 15 to 14 but that was to be expected considering it was an English tournament, but with Child now stepping down and French referee Benjamin Casty also calling it a day it potentially highlights a problem for the game.

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Kenneth Spencer
Kenneth Spencer
1 month ago

You can add Karl Kirkpatrick to the list.. maybe we need to look at who is running the show ? Also financially many officials have other roles in business and can earn much more in commercial life than they will ever earn in rugby. eg James Childs. However this is only a small reason I feel