Training – one of the three pillars of Racing 92 – doesn't just involve the young players who will be the club's sporting future. Guided by Director of Rugby Christophe Mombet and federal referee Jean Lespés, Racing has set up a successful referee school.
« Associations must contribute towards the recruitment of referees if they're to take part in official federal or regional competitions. All the associations, without exception, are duty-bound to abide by the provisions of this charter ». These words, taken from the Referees' Charter published by the French Rugby Federation, have been put into practice by Racing 92. By 2012-2013, the Ile-de-France club had already fulfilled the federal prerogatives introduced to develop the training of referees in France. Today, eight of the nine referees accredited by the Ciel et Blanc have reached and even exceeded their required match quota. While they were asked to officiate at only four matches, some have refereed nearly twenty. Christophe Mombet was delighted. « Above and beyond the federal obligation, Racing is developing a policy of supporting young referees", he said. "We are looking long-term at the idea of a referee school with the aim of having ten referees trained at the club ».
So, this season, Racing has fulfilled its objectives and has included an ingredient that is proving popular and has optimised resources. « The club is open to them », said the club's Director of Rugby. « Here they can learn about the demands of the competitive world, from amateurs to professionals, the requirements, the methods and above all the people – the players and coaches – of which it is made up. By rubbing shoulders with them, the referees will learn to understand them. Our aim is to train ten young referees to meet the demands of high-level rugby and support them through the start of their career ». The attitude is similar to that shown to the players. « We place them in a real-life situation », continued Mombet. « Jean Lespés, for example, monitors their performance closely. He analyses, assesses and advises the young officials ». And the bonus? « That they come to our youth training without supervision, under no pressure, with a desire to advise the different categories: from the rugby school to the older players », added Mombet. And the enjoyment aspect inherent to refereeing is essential. « It's sometimes a bit up-and-down in the early days, but the enjoyment comes as you referee more and more matches », said Lespés. « Nothing's easy, but you can get a lot of pleasure out of refereeing. I started at the age of 20 and thought that I'd be a referee by default, but I gradually got hooked on it and I still work hard now in the hope of progressing. You won't necessarily enjoy the first few matches: the pleasure comes later. You need to gain confidence. In a way, the pleasure comes with experience ».
To add pleasure to refereeing, Racing has made efforts to offer something extra to its apprentice referees. Throughout the 2012-2013 season, the young men in black took turns to shadow one of their more experienced colleagues at a professional match. « For each match, a trainee referee comes to Du Manoir to see what goes on behind the scenes at a professional match », said Mombet. « After a top-level match, they have a better understanding of the role of a match official. They can observe all the privileges given to referees officiating at Top 14 matches ».
At the start of the adventure, Jean Lespés talked of his ambition. « We want to become known as a club that trains referees. There are currently nine of us at Racing, including four young trainee referees. We're one of the biggest clubs in Ile de France: we have to set the example so that every club in the region will start persuading young people to take up the whistle! ». Ambition fulfilled. But Racing doesn't intend to rest on its laurels, as the training of players and therefore referees is one of the three pillars of its development.