Blowing the whistle on referee decisions

September 23, 2018

It's one of the hardest jobs in sport that every armchair fan thinks they can do better.

But QUT research has revealed the reasons how and why referees make decisions that can regularly enrage and frequently frustrate supporters.

Football referee and QUT researcher Scotty Russell (feature image above) has investigated why referees make the calls they do and what they want to achieve from the matches they officiate.

"Referees carry the heart of the game with their decisions," Mr Russell, who is completing his PhD at QUT, said.

"Their decisions constantly shape the way players move, behave and interact with each other and what we as spectators and fans understand to be right, wrong, fair and safe."

As football finals across codes across Australia are finishing, the research findings have been published in Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health.

Results found referees used four pillars to underpin their judgements:-In contrast to popular beliefs referees are sticklers or can "wreak" the game, Mr Russell said they tried to make the game "as great as it can be" for spectators, coaches and players.

"Referees often let minor infringements go if it means upholding one of the pillars, such as keeping the game flowing for an entertaining match.

"How the players end up interacting with each other during the match is conditional on how successfully the referee is able to instil faith in the players that they will be protected.

"This faith is quite often achieved in the first 10-15 minutes."

Professional A-League and Brisbane league referees aged 23-35 years were interviewed as part of the research.

"Interestingly, a lot of referees said a key goal was to keep players on the park because they believed that's what spectators want to see," Mr Russell said.

"But in some incidents there is no room for bad behaviour, like when a player punches an opponent in the head, it just has to be the red card. No one wants to see that and so the referee must act."

The research was supported by Football Brisbane, Football Queensland and Football Federation Australia.

Queensland's top football coach for referees Ted Kearney said the original reason a match official was on the field was to ensure a level playing field in all sport, not just football.

"Anyone can blow a whistle. The difference between a good and a great match official is what happens after the whistle," Mr Kearney said.

"Our role remains constant because of the importance society places on winning at all costs.

"We do what we do because we love the game just as much as any player, coach or spectator and considering the abuse that comes with this commitment, it should be patently obvious that we certainly do not do it for the money."
About the study

How interacting constraints shape emergent decision-making of national-level football referees research by Scott Russell, Ian Renshaw of QUT's School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences and Keith Davids from Centre for Sports Engineering Research, Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield, UK.

MEDIA CONTACT: Debra Nowland, QUT Media Officer (Mon, Wed, Thurs) +61 7 3138 1150 or

After hours: Rose Trapnell, +61 407 585 901

Queensland University of Technology

Related Health Articles from Brightsurf:

The mental health impact of pandemics for front line health care staff
New research shows the impact that pandemics have on the mental health of front-line health care staff.

Modifiable health risks linked to more than $730 billion in US health care costs
Modifiable health risks, such as obesity, high blood pressure, and smoking, were linked to over $730 billion in health care spending in the US in 2016, according to a study published in The Lancet Public Health.

New measure of social determinants of health may improve cardiovascular health assessment
The authors of this study developed a single risk score derived from multiple social determinants of health that predicts county-level cardiovascular disease mortality.

BU study: High deductible health plans are widening racial health gaps
The growing Black Lives Matter movement has brought more attention to the myriad structures that reinforce racial inequities, in everything from policing to hiring to maternal mortality.

Electronic health information exchange improves public health disease reporting
Disease tracking is an important area of focus for health departments in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

E-health resource improves men's health behaviours with or without fitness facilities
Men who regularly used a free web resource made significantly more health changes than men who did not, finds a new study from the University of British Columbia and Intensions Consulting.

Mental health outcomes among health care workers during COVID-19 pandemic in Italy
Symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and insomnia among health care workers in Italy during the COVID-19 pandemic are reported in this observational study.

Mental health of health care workers in china in hospitals with patients with COVID-19
This survey study of almost 1,300 health care workers in China at 34 hospitals equipped with fever clinics or wards for patients with COVID-19 reports on their mental health outcomes, including symptoms of depression, anxiety, insomnia and distress.

Health records pin broad set of health risks on genetic premutation
Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Marshfield Clinic have found that there may be a much broader health risk to carriers of the FMR1 premutation, with potentially dozens of clinical conditions that can be ascribed directly to carrying it.

Attitudes about health affect how older adults engage with negative health news
To get older adults to pay attention to important health information, preface it with the good news about their health.

Read More: Health News and Health Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to