Majority of refs face player abuse

July 26, 2002

While football supporters across the country look forward to the start of the new season, it seems many of the men in black will be viewing the prospect with trepidation.

Researchers have found that almost three-quarters of match referees have experienced threats and aggression in the course of officiating the beautiful game.

Half admitted to sometimes worrying before a match, while one in 50 was always anxious before kick off.

Younger referees were particularly targeted, regardless of their experience, and many suffered greater pre-match fears and had more problems concentrating in the face of aggression than their older counterparts.

The study was carried out by a group of researchers led by Thorsten Norlander, associate professor of psychology at Karlstad University, Sweden, and Trevor Archer, professor of biopsychology at Goteborg University.

The team questioned 107 provincial Swedish soccer association referees. They found that one in eight had suffered physical aggression from players during a match on at least one occasion, while a quarter had been threatened at least once and almost two-thirds had been subjected to verbal abuse.

A slightly smaller number had been abused by coaches and supporters. The referees admitted that it was more difficult to cope with aggressive behaviour from players and coaches than from spectators. The researchers suggest this might be due to the fact that most referees were former players and had a sort of collegiate association with them.

The report says: "Their criticism was perceived at a more personal level, whereas that of the spectators was perceived as coming from an anonymous, ignorant mob."

The result was a constant strain on match officials.

"It is understandable that many referees experienced frustration and considered terminating their referee careers, when on the one hand they placed high demands on themselves and on the other they wrestled with the stark day-to-day realities of the ordinary referee," the psychologists conclude.

The findings are published in the journal Aggressive Behavior .

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