Abuse is not a zero-sum game! The case for zero tolerance of match official physical and verbal abuse

Peter Dawson, Thomas Webb, Paul Downward

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Emergent research has investigated the impact of abuse on the decision of match officials to leave their sport. The existing literature is largely descriptive and qualitative. Based on large surveys of football referees in France and the Netherlands, this paper investigates the factors that are associated with the verbal and physical abuse of the referees and also the association of this abuse with the intentions of referees to quit officiating. The associations are investigated by estimating the marginal effects from bivariate probit and probit models respectively. Bivariate probit estimation reveals a strong correlation between each form of abuse. Both, unsurprisingly, are also positively associated with years of experience of referees. Probit estimation reveals that both forms of abuse as well as intimidation from refereeing certain teams are associated with an increased consideration of referees to quit. As increased intention to quit is also associated with the experience of the referee it is likely that the effect of abuse on referee considerations of quitting increase through time. The main conclusions are that the alternative forms of abuse are not zero-sum and both should be targeted by governing bodies to reduce the decline in number of football referees. The data show that support of referees, for example through mentoring, can offset stated intentions to quit.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)417-424
Number of pages8
JournalEuropean Journal of Sport Science
Issue number3
Early online date21 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2022


  • match officials
  • verbal abuse
  • physical abuse
  • intention to quit


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