Referees are an important part of a match that is often overlooked. Yes, the two teams playing against each other are far more important, but considering who the Referee is, should be part of your analysis.  The truth is, there is no doubt that referees have an impact on a match, from handing out cards to whistling out fouls and well, sometimes letting some fouls slide or overlooking them, which so happens to turn into a game-deciding goal.

Past studies on Referee bias have indicated that there are several factors that could influence a Referees decision to do something. If they act on something the crowds don’t like there could be a significant social impact that carries on after a match, being biased to a teams success, awarding penalties too generously, acting against favourite players with high reputation, all can cause the crowds and the millions at home to boo, including their social circle’s. Therefore a Referee has to be very selective and logical about his approach which you’d think would be easy by just enforcing the rules, however in the moment Referees can make mistakes, be too punishing or too awarding.

  • Successful teams were awarded more penalties compared to underdog teams.
  • Successful teams are less likely to be denied a penalty which can cause a game-changing turnaround.

Refs are humans after all and may unintentionally have a bias to a teams success and be socially influenced by what the crowds want.

Football Referees play an important role in enforcing the rules of the game, making over 200 decisions in each game. Because Referees make so many decisions in such a small amount of time, whilst millions are watching live at home and thousands in the stadium, mistakes are inevitable. The Referee’s role is very fundamental and part of their responsibility is to stay neutral as possible, but with players, trainers at the side and spectators by the millions, it’s difficult to not let some of the noise influence your decisions, as not acting could make you suffer backlash in your career.

According to a cross-sectional study of Norwegian top-class football referees, most report that their decision-making is unaffected by noise, disturbance, previous mistakes or others’ aggressive behaviours (Johansen and Haugen, 2013). Other studies indicate that referees’ mistakes are unequally distributed across teams (see Dohmen and Sauermann, 2016 for a review). For instance, Sutter and Kocher (2004) found that referees are more likely to award a penalty to the home team, suggesting that they may be subconsciously influenced by home crowd noise. This is consistent with other findings demonstrating that referees are biased toward the home team when awarding penalties (Nevill et al., 1996; Dohmen, 2008), distributing extra time (Sutter and Kocher, 2004; Garicano et al., 2005; Dohmen, 2008) and administering disciplinary sanctions (Dawson and Dobson, 2007; Buraimo et al., 2010, 2012; Reilly and Witt, 2013). The magnitude of referee bias also appears to be more prominent with increased crowd density (Goumas, 2014), and referees with higher anxiety levels are more prone to the influence of social forces (e.g., crowd noise) compared with less anxious referees (Sors et al., 2019). Thus, despite the intention and perception of impartiality (Johansen and Haugen, 2013), the cumulative evidence suggests that referees’ decisions are influenced by social forces.

Therefore we should try to understand referee’s decisions, how they can be biased (intentionally or unintentionally) and how much pressure they can have in a single game. It probably isn’t the most groundbreaking analytic, but it is something to consider, do certain Referees have a reputation for being too punishing, whilst others are more generous with their penalities. At the end of the day you’ll need to do your own research into this, but this is a reminder that the game is not just impacted by the two teams & their players but social influence, referee’s bias and so much more, perhaps more than we can measure or identify but it’s something to consider in your betting decisions.

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