You can now find the University's latest news, events and blogs at

Referees need specialist leadership support

A new study has found that football referees don’t suffer as much criticism as they believe.

Referees need specialist approaches to leadership, support and training

The success of the Premier League crackdown on intolerable behaviour of players and managers could depend on the leadership support given to elite referees, researchers from the University of Portsmouth suggest.

Premier League football is very big business, and referees can be seen as a specialist business team. Like any big national or international corporation with far-flung managers, referees need specialist approaches to leadership, support and training, the researchers conclude.

The study was led by Dr Tom Webb, senior lecturer in the Department of Sport and Exercise Science, whose survey research last year with Loughborough and Edge Hill universities among 2,000 football referees found that verbal abuse towards match officials is rife.

Dr Webb and his collaborators interviewed 42 football referees both domestically and in European and international football about their organisation and leadership.

They found that self-regulated, remote and individual training for referees are set to be even more important given the changes to the implementation of the laws of the game in the new Premier League season. Football authorities will need to invest further in these areas to get the best results.

The research concludes that mentoring for referees, and having inspirational leaders to implement strategies, is likely to be beneficial not only in the Premier League but also in European competition, such as the Champions League. But it warns that the moves to standardised approaches to leadership within refereeing should be reviewed, as it is inherently difficult at the European level as it involves overcoming different cultures within each country, as well as the different structures and systems in place.

Dr Tom Webb.

Dr Tom Webb.

Dr Webb said: “The Premier League is estimated to be worth £8.5 billion. It is very big business, and referees are a specialist business team within it. The nature of their jobs means they are working alone most of the time. So, as with the wide-flung managers of global corporations, referees need innovation in their leadership, support and training, especially as they work under immense pressure and scrutiny from fans and the media.

“This year, the pressures on referees could be even greater, with the announcement that poor player conduct and behaviour will not be tolerated and that referees should issue red cards to players that confront them and use offensive language or gestures towards them.

“This is a good idea. But our research shows that how this is policed, managed and supported will be crucial to the success or failure of the crackdown. With this in mind, it is even more important that referees in the Premier League and Championship are well supported with this crackdown to ensure that this has a positive impact on referee working conditions all over the UK.”


UoP News © 2019 All Rights Reserved