The Roar
The Roar


Referees have too much influence

Roar Guru
20th June, 2010

A heap of talk has been generated over the controversy surrounding Harry Kewell’s sending off in the World Cup match against Ghana. It doesn’t matter whether it was the right call or not, this incident highlights the fact referees can have too much influence on a football match.

To illustrate my point here is a summary of the referee’s power:

Referees have the power to award penalty kicks that enable a player to have a one on one shot with the goalkeeper from close range. Based on statistical averages this player has approximately a 70-80% of scoring from this position.

Referees have the power to send off any player from the ground. This player misses the rest of the match and incurs a minimum one match ban (almost always non negotiable). That team must play the rest of the match a player down. Incurring yellow cards across more than one match can also result in missing subsequent matches (again non negotiable). Offences that receive cards can often vary significantly in severity.

A match review panel may inflict further punishments on players after the match.

When compared to other sporting codes, football referees have a much larger potential to affect the outcome of the match. In both rugby codes, referees can send players off for 10 minutes (yellow cards) in the sin bin or for the rest of the match (red card). However, sin bin offences are not all that common and red cards are extremely rare.

Punishments (which are subject to appeal and prior offences) are generally handed out by match review panels after the game.

It’s the same case with Australian Rules (AFL) but umpires at the top level cannot send players from the ground (except in case of the blood rule, but a player can return to the field moments later). There was talk of introducing this after Barry Hall whacked Brent Staker in 2008 but thankfully there hasn’t been a lot of talk of it since.

The other thing you have to consider the amount of scoring in each of the games. In the rugby codes and AFL, scores from bad umpiring decisions would make up only a fraction of a team’s total score but in football a bad decision by a referee could result in the only score for the match.


Yes, bad calls by officials can influence a result in any game but the capacity for it is far greater in football. The referees effectively have the role of judge, jury and executioner on the field and a team’s fortunes can rest entirely in their hands.