Cardiff Metropolitan University
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The Development of Elite Rugby Union Officiating in Wales: A Critical Analysis

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posted on 2022-10-14, 14:10 authored by Neil Hennessy

 Rugby refereeing requires its practitioners to possess certain qualities. MacIntyre (1981) emphasises the importance of moral goods defined with respect to a community of virtuous persons engaged in a social practice. Whereas a virtue ethics account of playing and coaching has evolved (Brown, 1990; McNamee, 1995), little philosophical work exists on the role and status of elite match officials. The significance attached to the outcome of elite sport contests provide principled and instrumental reasons as to why this particular sporting aspect requires attention. Existing sports officiating research deals primarily with psychological (Bar-Eli et al., 1995; Boyko et al., 2007; Nevill et al., 2002; Weinberg et al., 1990) and physiological issues (Castagna et al., 2007; Inácio da Silva et al., 2008; Reilly et al., 2006). This work does little to explain the role and function of elite officiating. This interpretive study aims to enhance role understanding within a MacIntyrean framework, using elite Rugby Union officiating in Wales as its particular context. It examines the extent to which elite Rugby officiating can be considered part of a social practice by investigating the elite referee’s role as an arbitrator of justice and fairness and other responsibilities that may constitute the internal goods and virtues that safeguard the game. This analysis provides principled foundations for identifying those aspects of the referee development structure that represent ‘good practice’ and those that require reform. Key findings suggest (i) that Rugby refereeing is unique within sports officiating, (ii) that officiating is an integral yet imprecisely understood part of the practice; what Morgan (2007) refers to as a social collaboration and (iii) that greater interactivity between playing, coaching and officiating would enhance the growing understanding of Welsh Rugby as a commodified product. Subsequent recommendations include implementing a holistic approach to developing the game through the creation of a Rugby triumvirate and maximising the limited resources in the referee development process through early talent identification. 



  • School of Sport and Health Sciences

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  • Doctoral

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  • PhD

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