Protecting and promoting respect for rugby’s match officials as the sport continues to grow globally will be the focus of what promises to be an engaging panel discussion at the World Rugby Conference and Exhibition 2016 (ConfEx).

Rugby World Cup 2015 final referee Nigel Owens and former South Africa international and current Munster Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus will headline the panelists for the session on 15 November.

The panel will debate recent studies that suggest an erosion of respect and the impact that it will have on recruitment and retention of referees at all levels. And with the on-field action centered around respect for the match officials, the panel will discuss ways that any negative trends could be addressed.

The panel will feature key figures from the world of rugby, including:

  • Mick Cleary – Rugby correspondent at The Daily Telegraph
  • Rassie Erasmus – Director of Rugby, Munster Rugby and former South Africa flanker
  • Nigel Owens – Rugby World Cup 2015 final referee
  • Alain Rolland – World Rugby High Performance Match Officials Manager and Rugby World Cup 2007 final referee

Taking place on 14-15 November, 2016 at the Hilton London Metropole, ConfEx 2016 will provide the rugby community with the ideal opportunity to reflect on many aspects of the sport as it continues its global development.

World Rugby Chief Executive Brett Gosper said: “Respect for match officials is a cornerstone of rugby. It is an aspect of the game that is quoted often, by proud aficionados, impressed onlookers and envious followers of other sports. But there is evidence that this respect is being eroded at all levels of the game.

“This panel session is therefore going to be very interesting as we seek to engage a strategy to reverse this trend. We will hear the views of two world-class referees, a respected coach and a vastly experienced rugby journalist as we plan to protect the role of the rugby match official.”

Owens added: “For me, rugby is the best sport in the world and I have always felt respected and allowed to be myself. There are a lot of good people involved in other sports, and we can’t take a moral high ground because there is plenty that rugby could do better. But what rugby has always done well is discipline and it needs to stay that way.

“It starts with abuse of match officials – that’s a no-go in rugby and must be protected. Referees can add an instant 10 yards to a penalty, or brandish a yellow card, and we know we will be supported by the governing bodies, by the players and even most of the crowd. I would hate to think of that no longer being the case so I am looking forward to being involved in this panel. It is worrying to think that abuse of match officials is on the rise and it must be nipped in the bud immediately to stop it from getting worse.”

World Rugby ConfEx offers a dynamic platform to discuss, learn and create partnerships that will project rugby’s values worldwide. Under the theme, The future of rugby, the leading conference will build on the success of previous editions, gathering senior representatives from across the global rugby, sporting and business spectrum, to discuss the key topics, opportunities and challenges of a sport now played by a record 7.73 million men, women and children across 121 member unions.

The World Rugby Awards 2016 will be held on the eve of the event for the first time. Taking place at the Hilton London Metropole on the evening of 13 November, the World Rugby Awards will celebrate the accomplishments of players, coaches and teams from across the globe during 2016.