Simplified red card sanction process to be trialled at World Rugby competitions in 2024

Simplified red card sanction process to be trialled at World Rugby competitions in 2024
World Rugby has announced further details of a revised red card sanction process trial featuring automatic off-field sanctions for players shown red cards.
  • Rugby is united in drive to grow the sport’s global audience share by increasing accessibility and relevance
  • Shape of the Game delegates pinpointed rugby’s disciplinary process as a potential barrier to fan engagement – often complex, lengthy and difficult to follow for fans
  • A specialist cross-game working group involving referees, administrators, players and competitions has developed a revised red card sanction process for the elite game, promoting consistency and simplicity, making it easier for players and fans to navigate, while upholding player welfare
  • Automatic sanctions, involving suspension for set periods, with no mitigation, to be issued for red card sanctions for situations where a player has attempted to make a legal tackle or not attempted to make a legal tackle
  • More serious acts of foul play will be considered by disciplinary panel via the usual hearing environment
  • Revised sanctions combined with the ability to replace a red-carded player after 20 minutes have passed since the offence within closed trials at World Rugby events, including WXV, the Pacific Nations Cup and U20 Championship and Trophy this year
  • Results of closed trial will be evaluated with a recommendation made to Council in November

World Rugby has announced further details of a revised red card sanction process trial featuring automatic off-field sanctions for players shown red cards.

The revised process will operate within a programme of closed trials across World Rugby owned 15s competitions this year. Unions and competition owners may also apply to join the trial. It aims to promote outcome consistency and fan understanding by simplifying a disciplinary environment that can be complex. The results of the trials will be considered by the World Rugby Executive Board and Council in November.

The closed trial, mandated by the international federation’s Executive Board, follows a strong desire from the Shape of the Game forum, held in February, to review disciplinary processes through the prism of audience engagement, while reducing administrative burden.

Under the trial, clearly defined automatic bans will be applied for red cards involving foul play, promoting consistency of outcomes that are easier to understand while not compromising on player welfare:

  • Foul play – Automatic two weeks: where a player has attempted to affect a legal rugby action and/or has committed a reckless action but has made minor errors such as in technique or timing
  • Aggravated foul play – Automatic four weeks: where a player has affected a highly reckless action and/or a non-legal rugby action (tucked arm, no attempt to wrap, driving tackle)

A Sanction Committee comprising members with rugby experience will calibrate all red card sanctions from a round/weekend of matches. No mitigation will be applied in the automatic sanction scenarios, creating an environment of consistency, while making the process easier for players and fans to understand.

Based on the application of the new framework to previous cases, it is anticipated that approximately 70 per cent of offences (red cards issued so far in 2024) will be addressed via automatic sanctioning. However, recognising that some cases can be more serious, or complex, an option still exists to convene a committee to determine the final sanction:

  • Committee hearing to determine sanction: this will be applied to situations where the facts or intention are not immediately apparent and/or requires determination, where additional information or further evidence is required, where the matter is complex and/or serious, where an act of foul play for which a suspension of four weeks could be deemed too lenient, insufficient or inadequate.

The closed trials, which will operate at WXV, the Pacific Nations Cup, World Rugby U20 Championship and U20 Trophy this year, will also feature the ability for a red-carded player to be replaced by another player after 20 minutes. Coupled with the automatic sanctions, this enables strong punishment of the individual, not the game, maintaining the contest. 

The 20-minute red card was supported following examination of feedback and data from current trials, which demonstrate that tackle culture is changing in the sport with an overall reduction in red cards, and stabilised concussion rates. There has been a 37 per cent reduction in the number of ‘Tackle School’ applications – those taking up a place in order to reduce a suspension from play following sanction – in 2023-24 versus 2022-23, while less than six per cent of players globally have reoffended.

Armed with a clear mandate to design a process that will support rugby’s audience growth mission without compromising on player welfare, the trials will be subject to detailed review and assessment through the prism of welfare and game experience. Findings will then be presented to the World Rugby Executive Board and Council for consideration in November.

Key principles

  • The on-field process remains the same: Referees can still give a straight red card and the ‘Bunker’ can be called upon for matters that meet the yellow card threshold, reflecting a commitment to ensuring the right outcome and deterring foul play.
  • A red card still means a red card: This means that after 20 minutes, the offending team will be able to replace the red-carded player with one of their available replacements, leading to more jeopardy and a better contest on the day. The punishment is focused on the offending player, not the game.
  • Bans will mean what they say: Players sent off for dangerous foul play will be banned for longer via an automatic sanctioning process (no hearing). There will be no mitigation applied without an appeal.
  • Welfare remains non-negotiable: While tackle technique has shifted significantly given both welfare and performance dynamics, the off-field sanction process will continue to act as a strong deterrent to players, while education on tackle technique as a performance enabler will be stepped up.

World Rugby Chairman, Sir Bill Beaumont said: “This streamlined off-field sanction process has been designed by the game for the game and comes directly from clear feedback at the Shape of the Game conference that the current rugby disciplinary process needs streamlining to be simpler for players and fans to understand, while upholding welfare and game integrity imperatives.

“This is a trial, and it is important to remember that the ability to replace a red-carded player after 20 minutes is coupled with sanctions that are strong, clear and will not be mitigated down. This supports consistency and agility, by making the disciplinary process less influenced by lawyers. We look forward to seeing the results, including feedback from the game.”

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