SANZAR will use the Super Rugby competition this year to trial a new judicial system which will include white cards for referee referrals, off-field yellow cards, and a streamlined hearing process.
The trial has been approved by the IRB and is aimed at improving the outcome for all stakeholders as SANZAR seek to ensure that the process is swift, fair and cost effective.
SANZAR chief executive Greg Peters explained: "SANZAR has long held the view that we can do this area a whole lot better, we haven't had it right and we have wanted to lead some change in this area.
"We believe that we can get a much fairer and consistent outcome through a simple process with fewer hearings and a reduction in cost."
In formulating this new strategy SANZAR held a meeting in September to which they invited representatives from all three countries and every area of the game to give feedback on how the system could be improved.
The most notable change, which will be in play when the new season kicks off this weekend is a white card that referees will be able to use if they wish to refer an incident to the citing commisioner during the game.
Peters commented: "This is in the instances where the referee thinks an act of foul play might have occured but he is not totally sure that a red card is warranted or may be unsure of the identity of the player concerned.
"It will also be used in the instance where a player might complain to a referee who did not see the particular incident and after speaking with the assistants nobody has seen it and they cannot identify the culprit.
"The white card can be in addition to a yellow card or penalty, it doesn't have to be just on its own. So if the referee was not totally certain that the incident warranted a red card but it was definitely a yellow he could also hold up a white card which would mean that the citing commisioner would have a better look at it.
"This white card is also about letting the fans know that there is going to be a further look at it or a further investigation into the incident. Fans might not know that every yellow card is fully investigated by the citing commisioer in any event," he pointed out.
However, this does not mean that referees will be able to 'hide' behind the white card and use it to avoid making difficult decisions, as there will be consequences for them if they do.
"We will be firm on that in the referees performance review if we feel they have disregarded that responsibility for what is a clear and obvious offence," said Peters.
In addition to the new white cards citing commisioners will also be able to issue off-field yellow cards for the first time. These will carry the same weight as on-field yellow cards and are aimed at ensuring that punishable offences do not fall through the cracks as they have in the past.
"If the citing commissioner observes a serious act of foul play that in his view is very close but not quite a red card he now has the ability in this trial to issue an off-field yellow card.
"That off-field yellow card carries the same status as a usual one and goes on the disciplinary record of the player. If a player receives three cards, either off-field or on, he will then go into the judicial process," said Peters.
The next innovation involves a new position known as the Duty Judicial Officer (DJO), who will be a single person appointed to conduct an initial assessment of all possible incidents and deal with them as swiftly as possible, avoiding the hearing process unless absolutely necessary.
The idea is that the DJO will be able to view video evidence before communicating with the player concerned and attempting to reach a resolution if possible so that every incident does not have to go to a full hearing which can be costly and unnecessary.
Peters explained: "The DJO can hold a brief teleconference with the player and or his representative with whom he will discuss the incident, he will look at the video obviously in some detail and if it is three yellows he will look at all three incidents.
"After that assessment he can determine whether or not to offer the player a preliminary indication of penalty which would involve a discount for an early plea. The player would only be allowed to receive that indication if he acknowledges that an act of foul play has occurred and admits his guilt.
"It is not a full judicial hearing so there is not the full evidence that a player would normally bring to a full hearing and the DJO will then make an assessment and offer the player a sanction.
"If the player does not accept the indication it is automatically referred to a full hearing or if it is serious enought the DJO may decide to refer the matter to a full hearing.
"If it does go to a full hearing then whatever happened at the DJO hearing is not considered, so the judicial officer will start fresh and view the evidence and hear from the player in the normal manner," he said.
SANZAR are hoping that these adjustments will help to make the system more efficient and fair for all involved, not to mention the savings from avoiding full hearings where possible.
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