Tongan attack on ref ‘ cheap shot’
Mental Health Foundation slams comments by lawyer questioning semifinal decision on grounds of past issues
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.