Jason Craughwell has an abundance of experience as a referee, being the man in the middle for nearly twenty-five years and is a well-respected member of the Galwegians community. Working with Galway Sports Partnership, he works with the organisation to increase participation in sports across various age groups.
Throughout his life, he has endured a long career in the world of rugby and took the opportunity to share his experiences as a referee.
Originally from an athletics background, he started to play rugby for his school at the age of 15, before progressing to club level, joining North Kildare. While he was pursuing sports development, he started to volunteer as a referee for a local sevens tournament and quite enjoyed it.
That tournament was seen as a starting block for his refereeing career, as he began training to become an official referee for rugby league and rugby union and started refereeing games. Soon enough, Jason retired from rugby to concentrate more on being a referee.
For Jason, it was more about giving back to the rugby community and the enjoyment he gets about rugby as he says: “There is an enjoyment out of helping people. If you’re volunteering to help somebody or people, you get that enjoyment.”
“But also you have the best seat in the house, when you’re in the middle of a match you get to see what’s happening. Guys on the sidelines might give out but they can’t see it, you’re close up and personal.”
Jason gets to witness firsthand the development of any underage players that rise up through the ranks, some of them have gone on and played for Connacht, and he helps them develop their knowledge of the game rather than the growth of their skills.
“You meet people who are starting in their careers just enjoying rugby. But then you have players who may have played international or at a high level who are coming back to play junior and the craic and the fun you can have with them after a game”.
“The rugby community is great at making you feel welcome. Maybe not when you’re on the pitch and they don’t agree with a decision! But outside of that, they are always glad to see you after it and that’s what keeps bringing you back”.
A referee needs to facilitate the game as much as possible and within reason. Jason discusses how important it is to interpret the laws. The best games referees have is when they go unnoticed and they “let the players play”.
Despite abuse being somewhat of a rarity in rugby in comparison to other sports, sideline abuse has started to creep in more often into games. Especially in light of the recent Rugby World Cup where refereeing has been cast into the spotlight, it can be a challenge for referees to deal with.
“Referees will make hundreds of decisions in a match, we will get some of them wrong. Players and managers will make decisions and some of them will be wrong. We aren’t perfect and we don’t want referees to become robots, games will become start-stop”.
“In fairness, most players and management would say ‘Fair enough, you made a mistake or you didn’t see something’ and they will get on with it. Shouting from the sidelines, I don’t tend to hear it, I’m more tunnel-focused on the game, but there is more shouting from the sidelines”.
“There only have been a couple of instances over the last couple of years where there has been serious verbal abuse. I hope through education that we can say that certain stuff is acceptable and others’s unacceptable. But most people can accept that you made your best decision”.
With a career spanning two decades, Jason has enjoyed some standout achievements throughout his career, including refereeing the Connacht School’s Senior Cup Final and also the women’s interprovincial final between Munster and Leinster in one many visits to the Sportsground.
“It was a particularly proud moment in my career to referee in the Showgrounds, I have refereed there a good few times at different age levels and different finals and semis. Those two stand out a lot for me. You have seen players go on to do big things and I suppose it is a thing of pride, it’s something that you are proud of”.
Even when Jason may call it a day, he still wants to stay involved in the sport of rugby one way or another. There are many different roles in the refereeing association and Jason intends on keeping himself in the game.
“I’m going to have to maintain my fitness, we can referee until we are 65 then we have to retire. But there are other roles like an assessor or a coach so we have an awful lot of people who stopped refereeing in their forties, acting as referees and coaches”.
“So you are watching new and upcoming referees and helping them, spotting what they are doing and giving them advice. So not only would we have the monthly meetings which help us be up to date with the laws, we would have these referee coaches that would go and watch games”.
“At some point, I have three small kids and they are starting to get into sports and playing matches, I expect I’m going to be a taxi driver for the next couple of years! But I still hope to be involved well into my sixties or seventies”.