This is because rugby has always been serious about applying its rules on sportsmanship and fair play. In soccer, we pay lip service to those same rules. In particular, there has never been any clear and cogent instruction from FIFA to professional leagues, federations and their officials that the rule on dissent must be properly applied. It exists on the statutes, and is largely ignored weekend in, weekend out, by millions of players and officials around the world.
Just in case you don't know the ruling, which is part of Law 12 on Fouls and Misconduct, it reads: "A player is cautioned if guilty of dissent by word or action." It also states that the punishment is an indirect free kick when a player "is guilty of dissent, using offensive, insulting or abusive language and/or gestures or other verbal offenses." Even as a ref I have to frequently remind myself of this law, because you never see it enforced. However, like many other disregarded rules, it often comes up in the monthly online exams we're obliged to take and pass over the course of the season (pass-mark: 83%).
As an amateur referee, I'll remain lenient on this law as long as our TV screens show us images of professional players and coaches acting in what is repeatedly passed off as an "emotional" manner. These are the examples that amateur and youth players mimic in the absence of any worthwhile guidance from their own coaches or captains. If a highly paid and over-revered household name can get away without a yellow card for "emotionally" questioning a decision, why should the amateur players not be treated in the same lax manner?
If I punished every incident of "dissent by word or action" with a yellow card under the current disciplinary climate, Sunday's field would be a lonely place after an hour or so of play. Let's return to the rugby rules. What do they actually say? Law 9, under the sub-heading Misconduct, states that "a player must not do anything that is against the spirit of good sportsmanship." The following paragraph clarifies that "players must respect the authority of the referee. They must not dispute the referee’s decisions. They must stop playing immediately when the referee blows the whistle to stop play."
The sanction is a penalty, which in rugby can be given anywhere on the field of play, plus a yellow card and 10 minutes in the sin-bin. I very much like the phrase "must not dispute," and FIFA should add it to soccer's wording (preferably underlined, and in bold italics). Overall, though, World Rugby's wording does not greatly differ from FIFA's, which in the introduction to its laws under the heading "The Philosophy and Spirit of the Laws," states: "The integrity of the Laws, and the referees who apply them, must always be protected and respected. All those in authority, especially coaches and team captains, have a clear responsibility to the game to respect the match officials and their decisions" (Takes short break for a laughing fit.)
The difference of course is that in rugby you very rarely see dissent of any kind. Maybe a slight shake of the head or a raising of the eyebrows as a player walks away. The reason is quite simple -- the rules have always been applied with stringency, right from the very top of the game. It is not because there is no emotion in rugby. It's because the players are trained to keep their emotions in check (also known as 'discipline'). Instead, they focus on the actual game. After the game, following victory or defeat, is the time for emotions. During the game is the time to actually play it.
"The principle of fair play cannot be upheld solely by the referee," state the rugby laws. "Responsibility for its observance also rests on unions, clubs, other affiliated bodies, coaches and players." In a section headed Principles of the Game, you can read: "It is through discipline, control and mutual respect that the spirit of the game flourishes and, in the context of a game as physically challenging as rugby, these are the qualities which forge the fellowship and sense of fair play so essential to the game’s ongoing success and survival."
Unlike in soccer, rugby's captains and coaches are key to aiding the referee. What soccer urgently needs from its governing bodies is a program to train its leaders to be pioneers of sportsmanship, not just tactical and technical experts who yell a lot, and who view the referee as an obstacle to their success. Simultaneously, soccer's senior referees need to be instructed to impose the letter of the law at a major competition. I suggest the next European Championship, because most of the world will be watching, and it's long overdue. The law on dissent doesn't need to be changed. It just needs some attention, then concerted application.