The Rugby Football Union has been forced to apologise after an independent investigation in which 10 referees complained of being discriminated against on the grounds of their body shape.
In a statement released on Thursday lunchtime, the governing body conceded that “weight, shape or size” had been used as “criteria for assessment” regardless of whether requisite fitness levels had been met by the referees in question.
This was labelled as “unacceptable” by the RFU, with the report also finding that such trends had been recognised “at the highest level of officiating”.
“The investigation found that while there is no formal policy regarding referees’ weight, size or shape it has nonetheless been part of the criteria for assessment, regardless of whether fitness (Bronco) assessments were passed,” read the statement.
“The report also identified these criteria as being recognised at the highest levels of officiating and that this appears to have had a trickle-down effect.
“The RFU acknowledges this is unacceptable and is committed to addressing these practices to ensure physical appearance will not form part of selection criteria in future and apologises for the negative impact this has had on the referees concerned.”
George Richardson, a former referee who made the initial complaint before nine other officials came forward, said: “My primary motivation for raising the complaint was to ensure there is cultural change around this issue and to ensure that in the future assessments are based on ability to do the job, not physical attributes.
“I wanted to make sure that learning has taken place across the RFU refereeing pathway, so that the best referees within the country can get to the top and rugby really can be ‘the all-inclusive game’.
“I am pleased the RFU has taken this matter seriously and look forward to seeing the recommendations implemented for the next generation of referees to benefit and progress.”
A four-stage action plan was recommended by the report, urging the RFU to assess its written guidelines, issue a code of conduct, ensure that selection policies are transparent and communicate reporting mechanisms for anyone wishing to raise concerns around discrimination.
“The RFU is committed to actioning the recommendations and it will implement new codes of conduct and training for all match official selectors and developers,” continued the statement. “This work has already started and will be concluded before the end of the year to then be reviewed on an annual basis.”