George Ayoub, step forward, please

Thu, 21 Sep 2017 08:32
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"And George Ayoub is the television match official tonight."

The television commentator said that at North Harbour Stadium on Saturday before the All Blacks butchered the Springboks. It is not the first time that a rugby audience would have heard that or indeed the name, George Ayoub, for Ayoub has been long involved in top-level rugby.

Ayoub is not a name common in English-speaking or Pacific Island countries. It is in fact a Lebanese name.

George Joseph Ayoub was born on 23 October 1963 in a little village in northern Lebanon to a Catholic family of the Maronite rite. He was four months old when his parents joined many other immigrants into Australia, labelled New Australians. They settled in Sydney and Goerge, growing up, went to St Patrick's College, a Christian Brothers foundation in Strathfield, an inner Sydney suburb. It's a school of some 1 400 boys, now run by laymen.

After leaving school, Ayoub was a greenkeeper for a while before going off to university and, degreed, returning to St Pat's to teach history. He is still studying, currently doing a master's degree in international security.

And he still lives in Strathfield with wife Barbara, son John and daughter Olivia. He is now a full-time rugby match official, a TMO in fact. This follows time as a player, a referee and a coach.

At school he played rugby, a few years ahead of Michael Foley, who became a famous Wallaby. After school Ayoub played for and captained a local first-grade team. It's not hard to guess what position he played. Ayoub was a scrumhalf.

Like many other referees, he took up refereeing after an injury. In Ayoub's case it was a broken collarbone, one of the most uncomfortable of rugby injuries. Dick Byres persuaded Ayoub to take up referee at an adult level, for like all schoolmaster coaches Ayoub also refereed. Byres was a celebrated Australian Test referee who in 2007 received the International Rugby Board's award for  services to refereeing.

And so Ayoub from outer Lebanon started refereeing rugby football, joined the Sydney Referees' Association in 1993 and made a great career for himself. It took him just three years to get onto Australia's national panel. That announced him as one of the top referees in Australia

In 2000 he refereed his first Super Rugby match - Sharks vs Chiefs - and in 2002 he refereed his first Test - Japan vs Tonga in Kumagaya, a match which Tonga won. In 2007 he retired from active referee and in 2008 emerged again as a TMO.

In 2008 he also went off to Japan, contracted to Japan Rugby Union where he refereed for two seasons in their Top League. Ayoub found it a great experience, one that he was grateful for. He worked with younger referees and assisted in their refereeing development.

In his active career he refereed about 190 first grade matches in Sydney, 20 Super Rugby matches and four Test matches. He was also an assistant referees in nearly 50 Test matches. He also refereed many matches, including finals, on the International Rugby Board's Sevens circuit.

He is now one of the best-known names as a television match official. TMOs have an increasingly bigger part to play in all big matches but they remain unseen. They are often nameless, refereed to as "upstairs". They are heard but not seen, and they are brought into play only when it is the toughest decision of the match - did he score? was it a forward pass? who hit whom?

Unseen though he may be, Ayoub's work has been appreciated by those who evaluate the performances of match officials. He has now been a TMO in some 50 Tests. Included amongst that number is his appointment as one for the four TMOs appointed to the 2015 World Cup and his appointment as the TMO for all three of the B&I Lions Tests in New Zealand.

We asked George Ayoub to pick out some facets of his career in refereeing.

Achievements: I had a number of goals since beginning my career as a match official. Reaching first grade was my first step through to being appointed to officiate a test. After that, I moved from Referee/Asistant Referee to TMO, and my goal was to be as good as I could be as a TMO to assist any referee/assistant referees.

Highlights: There have been a number of highlights in my career, from refereeing my first 1st-grade match, through to Super Rugby appointment and then reaching Test match status. I realise that not many people get the chance to do what we do and I am very grateful that I have been in this position since 1996.

People who helped: My greatest supporter was my wife and continues to be a great source of inspiration. There have been many referees and coaches whom I have worked with as well - from my confidants, John McCarthy, Michael Tanzer and Wayne Erick son to so many others I have been working with for many years - Dick Byers early on as well as my travelling mates James Leckie and Matt Goddard. Now there is a younger generation of officials that I respect and support.

Role models: It may sound corny but my parents who instilled in me to work hard and never give up. A former Christian Brother, Rod Bransby who is one of nature's gentlemen. He was the person who first introduced many of us to refereeing during our schooling.

Most memorable match: Sorry I can't give one match that credit because there have been many. I loved being a referee and so every time I was appointed I enjoyed it, and now being a TMO at the Rugby World Cup and more recently the British and Irish Lions tour were incredible experiences. I still love doing what I'm doing and I hope to continue to contribute positively for as long as I can.

Meeting up with George Ayoub is a highlight - that warmth, that smile, that positive attitude. 

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