Charles Sturt University (CSU) research supported by the Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA) has found that the way football (soccer) referees present themselves influences the way players view their decisions.
Dr Peter Simmons, a researcher and lecturer at the CSU School of Communication at Bathurst, says that above all, players want referees to be correct, and the way referees communicate influences players’ perceptions of correctness.
“When all other things were equal, a calm manner and explaining decisions improved player perceptions of the referee and the correctness of decisions awarded against the player,” he said.
Dr Simmons is the first Australian to receive the prestigious Joao Havelange research scholarship from FIFA and the International Centre for the Study of Sport in Switzerland.
In 2008 he surveyed1861 footballers from Australia, Great Britain, Malaysia, Spain and Singapore to test the influence of different referee behaviours when awarding a decision against the player.
Dr Simmons said that referees make hundreds of decisions during a game, and every person sees each decision from their own vantage point.
“There is always doubt, especially in un-televised games, and players have ways of deciding how much confidence to place in the referee’s decisions.
“Consciously and unconsciously players are watching for signs that the referee is competent to judge and decide, dependable in the face of pressure, and respectful of players and the game.
“At all levels of football it is important for referees to communicate their own professionalism. When players perceive referees to be organised, professional and committed to the rules they’re more likely to judge the referee’s decisions as correct.
“Of course it’s similar to workplaces and schools or any situation.
"When you’re announcing a decision it’s important to know what people find to be fair because if people feel they’re being hard done by they’re less likely to listen or cooperate,” Dr Simmons said.
The research findings reinforce the importance of teaching young and grassroots referees about the way players form impressions about referees.
Dr Simmons’ study Justice, culture and football referee communication was supported by a Joao Havelange Research Scholarship from FIFA and the International Centre for the Study of Sports (CIES) in Switzerland.
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