Ton­gan at­tack on ref ‘ cheap shot’

Men­tal Health Foun­da­tion slams com­ments by lawyer ques­tion­ing semi­fi­nal de­ci­sion on grounds of past is­sues

Weekend Herald - - Cricket - League Michael Burgess

The Men­tal Health Foun­da­tion says a Ton­gan lawyer took an “un­nec­es­sary, cheap shot” at ref­eree Matt Cecchin’s pre­vi­ous men­tal health is­sues fol­low­ing his per­for­mance in last week’s Rugby League World Cup semi­fi­nal be­tween Tonga and Eng­land.

Auck­land- based Ton­gan lawyer Nalesoni Tupou raised con­cerns about Cecchin’s “men­tal fit­ness” to per­form his role in a let­ter to the Rugby League In­ter­na­tional Fed­er­a­tion as part of an at­tempt to get the semi­fi­nal re­sult over­turned.

A Men­tal Health Foun­da­tion spokesper­son said the com­ments were highly dam­ag­ing. “These kind of at­tacks are un­fair and re­ally dis­ap­point­ing in 2017,” said Sophia Gra­ham. “We should be bet­ter than this. When peo­ple talk like this, it pushes peo­ple back into the shad­ows.”

Tonga were knocked out of the World Cup in con­tro­ver­sial cir­cum­stances when Cecchin de­cided not to seek the as­sis­tance of the video ref­eree to de­ter­mine if Andrew Fi­fita had scored a le­git­i­mate try in the last play of the game, with Tonga trail­ing 20- 18.

Cecchin’s fail­ure to al­low tech­nol­ogy to be used sparked wide­spread protests through­out Auck­land, as well as an on­line pe­ti­tion signed by tens of thou­sands.

Tupou, who em­pha­sised he was act­ing as an in­di­vid­ual, took things one step fur­ther by fil­ing a six page for­mal ex­pres­sion of con­cern in re­la­tion to sev­eral as­pects of Cecchin’s de­ci­sion

Tupou opined Cecchin was neg­li­gent in not re­fer­ring the de­ci­sion up­stairs, and also men­tioned pre­vi­ous high pro­file mis­takes com­mit­ted by Cecchin in a NRL game be­tween the Bron­cos and the Roost­ers in 2012.

But his most in­flam­ma­tory com­ments were made around Cecchin’s pre­vi­ously pub­li­cised men­tal health is­sues. Cecchin told Aus­tralian me­dia last year that he had a panic at­tack be­fore one game in 2016, and had pre­vi­ously sought help in the past for anx­i­ety is­sues.

“I have writ­ten to the RLIF ask­ing for par­tic­u­lars about his men­tal health,” Tupou said yes­ter­day. “Fur­ther ac­tion can be taken. For ex­am­ple, if the is­sue of anx­i­ety comes into it, and there is no med­i­cal cer­tifi­cate or ex­am­i­na­tion of the ref­eree, that is an is­sue. Why did they not do it? Has he got a cer­tifi­cate of fit­ness?”

Tupou’s com­ments were slammed by Gra­ham.

“It’s hard to see what one has to do with the other and it is quite a cheap shot to be mak­ing,” she said. “And it’s a weak shot; it un­der­mines the le­git­i­macy of their en­tire com­plaint.

“There are so many peo­ple work­ing re­ally hard to break down the stigma and dis­crim­i­na­tion that can so of­ten at­tend an ex­pe­ri­ence of men­tal ill­ness.

“There i s also amaz­ing work hap­pen­ing in the Pasi­fika com­mu­nity and this re­ally un­der­mines it. It can be one voice from one in­flu­en­tial or­gan­i­sa­tion or per­son that can re­ally erode years of hard work.

“Nearly 50 per cent of us, and some stud­ies say up to 80 per cent of us, will ex­pe­ri­ence a men­tal health prob­lem in our life­time. I don’t think 80 per cent of us need to have a men­tal health cer­tifi­cate to do our jobs, or have our judg­ment ques­tioned.”

Cecchin is recog­nised as one of the best ref­er­ees in the sport since com­ing into the NRL in 2001, con­trol­ling 250 NRL games, two grand fi­nals, State of Ori­gin matches and tests.

World Cup or­gan­is­ers of­fered “no com­ment” on Tupou’s let­ter.

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