The End of the Game?

As more and more studies are conducted showing that referees are subject to significant biases beyond their conscious awareness (and, sometimes, in quite plain view . . . yes, hello there, Mr. Donaghy), I wonder how soon we will finally see the death of the “judge as umpire” metaphor (at least in confirmation hearings).

Yesterday, I came across this article about researchers at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University, who found that when faced with ambiguous foul situations, soccer referees were significantly more likely to award a foul to the taller of two involved players. The study involved analyzing over 100,000 fouls committed over a seven year period and is to be published next month in The Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology.

The work aligns with a growing stack of papers showing that, well, referees are human—swayed by elements in their situations even when they believe they are being utterly objective. At the end of last year, for example, academics in the United States published an article in The Journal of Sports Sciences finding that college basketball referees were biased against visiting teams and that the larger the difference in fouls between two teams, the greater the likelihood that the next whistle would go against the team that had fewer fouls. Other recent studies have found similar home-team bias in the English Premiership (see here and here). And, of course, back in 2007, there was the research on NBA officiating showing that white referees were more likely to call fouls against black players than white players.

As someone who has objected to the judging/refereeing analogy on other grounds before, I, for one, am hoping that the weight of the evidence finally dissuades judges and justices from employing it.

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1 Response

  1. Ken Rhodes says:

    >>At the end of last year, for example, academics in the United States published an article in The Journal of Sports Sciences finding that college basketball referees were biased against visiting teams…>>

    Well shut my mouth! Who’da thunk it? You mean those bookies had it right for the last 60 years?

    >>…and that the larger the difference in fouls between two teams, the greater the likelihood that the next whistle would go against the team that had fewer fouls.>>

    Scene–the bench, during a timeout. The coach exhorts his team: “C’mon, guys, this is getting out of hand. We can’t afford to give them this many free points. You’ve got to cut down on all those careless fouls.”

    Hmmm … you think maybe the next foul might be committed by the other team?

    Then again, maybe it’s nothing to do with the players. Just the refs, “swayed by elements in their situations even when they believe they are being utterly objective.”

    Gimme a break! If you want to do serious research, how about a little better familiarization with the subject matter?